Can you talk about your early experiences with hip-hop, before you hooked up with Yusef?
I started listening to music as an infant. My dad was into making 8-track tapes for the family. He was a blues dude. He had every blues record. So I was born into that whole life. I would sit and be chillin' with my pops and he'd be making tapes for the family in Texas or Louisiana. All B. B. King, all Albert King, all the Kings on one tape. He had these fresh little mixes. And I would just stare at the covers, not even listening, just looking at them. So somehow that imprinted on me.
Later, the first real hip-hop that I heard was Sugarhill Gang, "Rapper's Delight" and then Kurtis Blow's "Christmas Rap." So when I'm listening to those records, at that time, I didn't know the breaks, the break beats. I had no clue about that yet but I really fell in love with rap. Shortly after that, I would hear stuff on this radio station we have out here called K-Day. It was more like electronic beats like Afrika Bambaataa. We had this DJ crew called Uncle Jamm's Army that would play a lot of electronic beats. It didn't have titles and genres then. It was like graffiti and break dancing. It kind of just went together. After that, I noticed it started to change and I started to hear more rapping. So I started out hearing rappers and then after those two songs, I didn't really hear too much more until a little bit later, in the early 80s. Everything else was just instrumentals, beats to dance to. When I started hearing the emcees, I really fell in love with that. You know, hearing Run-D.M.C., there was this group called Divine [Sounds]. There were a lot of groups I heard on the radio that really influenced me. All of a sudden, I started hearing samples in the records and was like, "I have that record!" Once that happened, that's when it was over, once I realized, "Oh, I have all these records." And I'm a little kid. So now I'm listening, trying to figure out how they did it 'cause I still didn't understand the technical aspect of it. I just knew I had the source material. So I put it together by watching videos, listening to the radio, listening to the DJs talk, figuring out what cutting was, 'cause it wasn't like now where you can just YouTube anything.
I read that you learned how to make your first pause mixes from Mix Master Wolf.
Yeah, that's correct. At that point, I'm pretty much aware of mostly every hip-hop record that's in L.A. K-Day was a great source - it wasn't the only thing - but it was the only thing we had in L.A. really. So I would go build over with Mix Master Wolf 'cause I went to school with his cousin, O.J. and that's who I'm talking about on "Mix Tapes," you know, "with my man, O.J." We were friends. I would catch the bus on Friday and go to his house and spend the weekend and he introduced me to Mix Master Wolf. Wolf already had a 4-track. He was already scratching, mixing, everything. He was already advanced, in a sense. I would watch him and he would take James Brown breaks and pause mix 'em and rhyme over 'em. And it was like, "Boom! I get it!" So I got a 4-track, turntables and a mixer and from what I learned with Wolf, I brought that over to my own thing. Shortly after that, I was able to get my hands on a sampler, which took it to a whole 'nother level. So we were doing it manually, and it was kind of limited, because we were very young. It hadn't unfolded yet. But when I got my hands on the sampler, then I kind of figured out, "Oh, that's how they did that." I thought, originally, those were drum machines that they were using [laughs]. I thought Marley Marl just had this incredible ass drum machine that just had these, you know, brilliant sounding drums. I didn't know he was chopping the beats. But I started gettin' it. I really, really wanted to understand this thing. I was maybe fifteen. So by the time I was fifteen, I could make beats. I could do everything. I could rhyme. I could record. I could make a beat. I could pause mix a beat. I could sample it.
So around that time was when you met Yusef?
Well, this was maybe the year before that, I met Wolf. I met O.J. in seventh grade. After junior high, when I got to ninth grade, that's when I met Yusef. We weren't really rhyming together at first, we just kicked it. We were just good friends. We had the same taste in gear and stuff like that. Then the summer time came, and that's when me and Yusef kinda came together. It was really cool. Yusef wasn't really rhyming at that time. He could sing and he was making music that he could sing to. He had a keyboard. He's so underrated. He was a genius. Some people just have that thing. People can make beats or whatever but some people are just truly gifted at it.
Well, he was an instrumentalist too, right?
Yeah, the first time he came over and saw what we were doing, he came back with his guitar and a stack of records like, "I like to play these." I'm playing a record and he's guitar soloing over the record [laughs]! It was dope. Now, if that would happen, I'd go crazy, but then it was just, "Oh, that's dope." It was just part of the makeup of us. As we started developing, the music that he made to sing over, I could rhyme over, you know? So we really started experimenting. So I was like, "Make a beat on the keyboard and I'll rhyme over it and you can sing. Or let's rhyme together. Why don't you rap on it?" And just like that, it started. And you can hear how dope Yusef is.
I'll tell you this too. We went through several lives in hip-hop, me and Yusef. We started in the 80s. Yusef passed in the year 2000 and all the way up until then, say from sixteen to seventeen, we actually got signed to a label, as teenagers. So we were in the studio. We recorded a gang of music. We recorded every single day. It was like our life blood. And we were always producer minded, so we made stuff already in an album format. So we turned in albums to the labels and they never knew what to do with us. They didn't understand that we are our own little thing, so promote us like that. Promote us like we are the shit, not like we're copying something else. We're our own entity. So we had lots of conflict with record labels and stuff because, like I said, they didn't have the balls or didn't have the foresight to make it what it really could have been.
The first single you guys released, "The Picnic Song", has a more commercial sound. Was that something the label wanted? Because it sounds different than the other songs on the single and the stuff you released on Advanced Regression, which sound more like what you'd expect from The Nonce.
Yeah, well, we were highly influenced by De La Soul, Tribe Called Quest, Jungle Brothers, and that is a total influence time. So for instance - some people get this, I really get it now because I'm a lot older than a lot of emcees and I look at their fans and what I was like - when you're young, whatever you're into is the world to you. If you're into trap or whatever, that's what you're really fuckin' into. And nobody can tell you, "You know, this is kinda crap." [laughs] That's what they're into and they're fully vested in that. I didn't think nothin' was harder than Tribe, so I was on that level, internally. That was my foundation. So anything, when you're young and things highly influence you, you don't have your actual own voice yet. At that time, I didn't have my own voice yet. Where I'm at now, I don't think of anything. I just do it. I concentrate on what I'm about to write about, but I'm not...
It's like you found your niche, your own style.
Yeah, yeah, and that happens when you do so much music. You do it and do it and do it until one day it becomes unlike anything else and you know it. Once you reach that point, then you jump off and hopefully you have positive influences around you who were supporting you and don't hinder you so you can develop further. I want to say that when I got to Phlowtations, that is, to me, when I acquired my own true voice. This sounds crazy, because this is after World Ultimate. When I listen to that record, I love it, and I know a lot of people love it because it was important to them at that time of life and it imprinted. It matters to people in that kind of way, but I was very young still and hadn't read so much stuff or been exposed to so much stuff. I was rapping just out of the fuel of wanting to rap and be fresh. I didn't have so much knowledge. I'm not an idiot or anything, but the more knowledge and information you acquire, the more fuel you have to create your songs with.
Well, like you said, when you were Nouka Basstype, it was much more lighthearted, but when you hooked up with Global Phlowtations and started going by Sach, did that name change coincide with that shift in your sound?
Yeah, it did. The simple answer to that is that I was around a lot of great emcees who were younger but who were just as dope to me. Nobody was like, "Oh, you gotta come up a bit." It was like being around a whole bunch of frickin' rap geniuses. It'd be like a jam session of jazz musicians from the 50s, a stupid session like that. That's how it was with Phlowtations. It wasn't a competition. It was more like, "You're gonna jump off there? Then I'm gonna jump off here." And we made these beautiful lyrical pictures. It was a real creative environment and a lot of people were involved with us in other ways than music, which helped me a lot too. When Phlowtations was a steady entity, people would get off on just bringing us information to feed us. Like someone would bring a box of books, or some way out movies you've never seen or maybe aren't supposed to see. You name it, it was brought to us, like, "Here, absorb this." It was crazy. So we had a really bomb bookshelf that had all the books people would bring by. We spent a lot of time at Phlowtations studying, even though it was real fun. That was a big thing that doesn't get talked about because it was all us but we was in the books. We were trying to understand everything. That's why the lyrics and concepts were precise and way up there because we were constantly trying to feed ourselves with some kind of knowledge like a whole big palette.
And that was a connection with Zagu being in Phunky Dialect? That's how you hooked up with GPAC, through Zagu?
Yeah. Well, this is how it went: It started off at Long Beach, The Pyramid. This auditorium at Long Beach University that we performed at. This is how I remember it. It was a ton of people there. It was during the day. It was The Nonce's turn to perform, we get up there and I dunno - sometimes maybe some of these soundmen aren't supposed to be soundmen - but he started turning our mics down and we were like, "Uh, you're turning our mics down. Turn the mic up!" And this is a big arena. And he turned Yusef's mic all the way off. And we're like, "Really?!" [laughs] And Yusef is dope for this, man. He slammed that mic down so hard, dude, it wasn't even on but it rang through the whole arena. And it was like an animated slam. It was like the kinda slam that you'd put in the dictionary, like, "This is a slam!" He took one step and almost like slammin' a basketball, he jumped a little bit and slammed it! And he was like, "That's it! We out!" And everybody's clownin', like, "Oh my God! I've never seen someone really truly slam a mic like that." It was brilliant.
So afterwords, we're outside. Everybody's kind of networking or whatever. And Zagu comes up. He has a Dialects tape, and he basically chopped it up with Yusef. So later, Zagu called the house, trying to get a session with Yusef. And Yusef, he was the type of guy, if he was working on a project, something he's got going on, he won't stop it. He'll continue until he finishes it and make time for other stuff after. He wouldn't interrupt that flow until he's finished what he's doing. So this one time Zag called, and I was like, "Damn, I already know he's busy with this other project," so I was like, "It's cool! Just come through." So that's how me and Zag started. He was trying to get a session with Yusef but Yusef was real, real busy. Yusef wasn't putting him off or nothing, but Zag comes and the very first song we did was "Illustrations", which is on Suckas Hate Me. The very first thing we touched together was one of the dopest songs on that record.
So I was like, "I'm gonna make you a beat," and I made him this beat. Our lab was on Marvin Blvd. I thought the beat was dope. He thought it was cool, but I thought the beat was real dope! After he left, I was like, "I gotta write a rhyme to it, even if I don't record it." So when he called back, I was like, "Ok, Zag, I made the beat, but I also wrote a verse to it too. Is that cool?" And he's like, "Yeah!" So that's how "Illustrations" came about. This was before Phlowtations. It wasn't that yet. It was about to come. This was like the precursor. So after that, Zag got the spot over on Rollin Curtis and right before they moved over there, that's when the title Global Phlowtations came about, I think. But from the tip top, I've been in Phlowtations.
What's really beautiful about that was the fact that it was Zagu's spot but he welcomed everybody. It wasn't just people hanging out. Everybody was always doing something. Whether it was writing, making a beat, or just reading something. There was something going on, always. There was a room in the front and that's where the studio was most of the time. So I remember Adlib recording on this old Mac computer. This is like early '97. We had a dub 30 (Roland W30) I had brought an Akai sampler, I think it was a S950, or a 900. Sometimes there'd be an MP there and Zag had an SP-12. We had several crates of records. And sometimes you'd come to the house and everything would be moved, like some fung shei kinda shit! It was really cool 'cause you'd see the studio here on, like, the east wall. Then next month, it's all by the window. And it kept changing and evolving. It'd go into different rooms in the house. Now it's in the backroom.
And there was lots of dancin' goin' on too. Nobody really breaks that down too. I'm a big dude, so I'm not really no dancer but these dudes could do it. They called it skankin'. Zag could do it. Cliff Wright could do it. Okito could do it. Orah could do it. So it would be these whole big dance sessions in the front room, you know? So it's not only beats and rhymin' goin' on but they could really dance! Like, you've seen ciphers, circles in the club - it makes the whole night. You see one guy and it's like, "Man, I can't wait until he gets back in the circle." These were those guys. So I think a lot of times, because they could boogie, it would influence the beats somehow. That was another little ingredient - spice - that you added to the whole mix to make something. This happened with The Nonce too. We had a couple friends who danced and we'd play beats and see if they danced to 'em. Like, "Ok, this one they didn't get down to. They went crazy over this one." That's a little side element that's part of Global Phlowtations that gets slept on. Fahr from Bzerkos was dope too! Dude, I wish I had videos of some of the dancing. Zagu gets down!
[laughs] I believe that.
Yeah, tall Zagu gets down! It was great.
You mentioned some of the equipment you were using with Global Phlowtations. Can you break down some of the other equipment you've used for your recordings? You have a very unique sound.
All of The Nonce was done on an Akai S950. Also a Roland Sound Module, and a Roland MPC. That was The Nonce. That's how you get that sound right there. All of my stuff, like Grand Daddy Sach and Ignorance My Enemy, all that stuff was done on my Yamaha Motif 6, which was my favourite tool after the Akai. Now, I'm using an MPC2000, still, to make a lot of the music, but I'm never totally stuck on a piece of equipment. That's not completely true, when I first started making beats it was on the [Akai] S900, so on any piece of equipment I try to make it do that stuff, and if I could do that on there, I've mastered the beat. Also the other half of the stuff that's on bandcamp, from after Ignorance My Enemy, like Happy Verse Day and I'm From Vermont Knolls, I used a Tascam digital 8-track portable. Just to say, you may not be able to afford the most expensive equipment or whatever, but by using proper recording techniques and improvised recording techniques you could make stuff that people would never know was not made in a professional recording studio. That's my whole thing, from the beginning, trying to get the sound I wanted.
Backing up a little bit, I heard a couple early Nonce tracks. One was called "China" and there was another one called "The Nonce Game." Can you talk about the concept for that track and is that where you guys got the name?
Yeah, that was in the 80s. "China" was the first song I ever recorded on my 4-track. I dunno. Maybe because I was so young, that's why people really like that. I listen to it and I feel it twenty five, thirty years ago [laughs]. It's really frickin' old. I was like fifteen when I wrote that. But what happened was, I was very into books and I used to love pouring over the dictionary. I still do that now and then. I'll just pick it up and I'll see some word that will catch my eye and maybe I'll want to use it for something later, and I found the word "nonce." I was with my sister in Louisiana and I brought the dictionary with me and I just found that word and was like, "Ok! That's kinda fresh. That's kinda perfect. That's everything I want to be in hip-hop." I wanted to make up words and have my own slang. Those were the kicks and thrills for me. To make something that wasn't there before. So that name really summed it up and I told Yusef and he was like, "That's perfect." So when I had his Ok on that, I started "The Nonce Game." We weren't called The Nonce then, but people would call us - this is almost embarrassing - The Nonce Brothers or The Nonce Boys, 'cause we didn't have a name for our crew and that was a song we had, so that's how it was born. So we just made it The Nonce and we started writing that down on tapes and it just stuck. All based on that one little song, and the meaning of that word. It was too fresh. The definition of it is to make up words in a song.
One of the things I would love for you to break down is your connection with First Brigade and any information you wanna share about First Brigade. I'm assuming that was a Wild West connection?
Yeah, it was a Wild West connection but also a couple other things. I was involved in this thing called I-Fresh. You know how you have the Good Life and Project Blowed, stuff like that? I started at I-Fresh. We would do these cable TV shows, these rap shows. It was really insane, actually, to be involved in that. It would be these different shows in different cities, shows for I-Fresh. It wasn't like Soul Train or nothing like that, but it was a real hip-hop, underground rap showcase and it was really fresh. And Ganjah K was affiliated with it too. So that's how I initially met Ganjah, through I-Fresh. His name was Pee Wee Jam at the time before he changed it to Ganjah K. He was dope! We were all kids, like fourteen, fifteen, but he was super dope! Remember I was tellin' you I found my voice after World Ultimate? Well, to me, he found one of his voices right after becoming Ganjah K, from Pee Wee Jam. If you listen to some of Ganjah's old stuff, you can hear that thing in there, the thing a lot of people kind of bit. But when he was Ganjah K, he was fully engulfed. Some of his rhymes were incredible! So I met Ganjah at I-Fresh, and I didn't know he was dealing with the same label that I was. So we bumped into each other at the studio. He was with Marc the Murderah and Meen Green. So that's how I was introduced to them, and right away, they wanted some beats and we're having these sessions where we're producing Ganjah. We're producing Marc the Murderah. We're producing Meen Green. Marc the Murderah and Meen Green together. Just a lot of stuff, man. Then hooking up at the studio one time. We used to record at this studio called Tracks. It's pretty famous. A lot of classic things were recorded at that studio. That was a really good time, actually. Up to that point, I had been in 24-track studios but these sessions were mine, you know what I'm sayin'? Fully mine. I'm producing, recording it, doing the whole nine. Same way how I might not've had my full emcee voice then, I felt like I got my full producer's voice then.
Did First Brigade produce multiple albums? I've heard of one called Lions of Jah Kingdom and I know Ganjah is planning to release one called WMD.
Yeah, they have multiple albums. The Nonce was just one producer. They worked with Fat Jack and a lot of other producers. J. Sumbi. So it's easy to have a lot of aids, and easy to have a lot of things that never come out.
So you weren't actually a member of First Brigade? You were just producing songs for them?
Yeah, I was just producing songs, but we were really down with First Brigade. We weren't First Brigade members, but I was down with First Brigade.
You mentioned J. Sumbi. Can you talk about your working relationship with him?
Sure, sure. I think I really started dealin' with J. Sumbi after we did this photo shoot with Meen Green. It's The Nonce, Meen Green and J. Sumbi and his partner Daryl and we're all in this picture together. It's frickin' dope. And I was like, "Sumbi, you're dope! Can you scratch on this song for me?" And he'd be like, "Yeah, no problem." He'd go DJ at some poetry jam or whatever. And, at this time, there was a big earthquake in Los Angeles. And Sumbi lived maybe twenty minutes away from where I stayed at. Everybody was kinda close to where I was at, right? We had this earthquake and some people's apartments were damaged so a lot of people moved and Sumbi moved to the end of my block! And Ganjah moved not too far away. Everybody was just, like, ten minutes away. So that earthquake [caused a lot of] production to be done. For a couple years, similar to Phlowtations, how the location department was perfect, this was too. This is still before Phlowtations.
It'd be like this: Say I'm workin' on something. Sumbi's at work. I'd be like, "Sumb, can you come down after work? I need to you to cut on something." He'd bring a turntable and a mixer, right? He sets the one turntable and a mixer on my futon and commence to get busy! So he would just pop the lid off the turntable case, set everything up right there and cut up the turntable on the futon, on his knees! I love Sumbi, man. He's such a positive person, man. He has lots of ideas. We always worked really good together.
He is also the reason why we got hooked up with American too. He was DJing these poetry jams out here in L.A. somewhere and we had just got our clear vinyl of "Mix Tapes" and what Sumbi does is whatever he's playing, he props up the cover right in front of the turntable. So you might be wondering what he's playing. You don't have to ask him. You could just see it right there. And some dude came up and said "What are you playing?" He was like, "It's The Nonce." And just like that, that was Dan Charnas from American. Next thing you know, the shit is going down. It was like that.
It's crazy how much he's done, behind the scenes.
Yeah, he's actually - I have a new project coming out, likely at the top of next year or late this year called fiDELITY - and I have J. Sumbi on the bass. He plays bass. He builds custom basses and stuff and I got him blessing some songs on fiDELITY that's really, really good.
You've also worked a lot with Omid. Can you talk about working with him and how you hooked up with him?
I started working with Omid through Global Phlowtations. We did that song, "To the Turn of the Earth" and that was the initial collaboration that we had. After that, we would just build. Besides music, we were on other things. We were into books. So our relationship was like, "You gotta read this!" Or he'd bring me books. So we read the same book at the same time, building with each other. We did that a lot, in between working musically with each other. But it was a special kind of relationship. So our whole thing was, in a way you could superimpose the books we were reading into the music we were making. That's the special connection. We'll watch a great movie, or some book or something, we'll make a song like that.
Well, he even dedicated his Distant Drummer album to the Hyperion novels.
Yeah! [laughs] That was the first book that I read with Omid. He was already half way into the first Hyperion, and he told me about it. So I went and got 'em and we read 'em together. And we were like, "Oh, wow! Did you trip off of this?" We were fully engrossed in that for months. He would have the record be a collection of some of the things that we read. I did the same thing too. If you listen to Sach 5th Ave, I have a song on there called "Cantos" and that's from Hyperion. One of the characters wrote this cantos, which is like this never ending story that went on and on. It's dope though. That's why my "Cantos" is this epic sounding story with, you know, my views on where I was at then. That's the kind of really nuanced things that helped me stay creative and still want to do it. It's these other side things that never get mentioned. Nobody really knows about these books that we read that influenced us to make these next steps or whatever. It's easy to overlook the fact that, "Oh, it wasn't music that was really doing that. It was really books!" [laughs]
Last year you posted a bunch of material on your bandcamp you referred to as the final pieces of your "lo-fi era." Can you talk about those recordings?
I came from the era of being on a label, releasing an album once a year or every two years. That was my box that I was in, and as I stopped being involved with labels and not so much being able to readily put my music out, I was still creating. I let go of that thing that goes, "Ok, this is the album and it's for this year" and stopped thinking about that. I threw that all out the window. When it comes to creating music and making albums, I don't cater to people. I don't cater to the public, to fans, to anyone. I just do what I do, and that freed me up so much. I don't have to worry about this other stuff. It might not work for other people, but it works for me in terms of my creativity because I don't like to force it. I'm the type that, like, "Ok, this starts to emerge and now I can develop it." It's like putting some paint on the paper in a random way and then you start to see an image and you start to fully develop that image. I would go, "Ok, I've got an idea for this record." Even though I didn't have a label or somebody to put it out, I was just making it. The first time it was really fun and thrilling. I've got this record nobody even knows about, right? Soon after, I had another idea. I want to make another one. I had to let go of that voice that says, "You just did a record. You don't need to do another record." So I just had this premonition to keep making albums, as many as I can. So then I did another one. Next thing you know I have three whole records that nobody's heard. And, at that time, no labels were getting at me, but I had like four or five albums [laughs]. I had Grand Daddy Sach, Ignorance My Enemy, Only for the Gifted & the Lifted... I know there were some people who were wondering what I was doing. So I put it out there to free up myself. Now I can move to something new.
Can you talk about your plans for the future? I know you have an new album in the works.
My new record is fiDELITY and it's the first record I've done that's like The Nonce record. It's 24-track. I want to give it all the attention it deserves. I wanna be like Duke Ellington. I wanna do major production pieces. My mind is unfolding into this bigger picture right now. I want do some scores. I've done a few small scores but I want to do some more full-fledged scores. I want use all my intuition to make some bigger music. You know how it is sometimes, when you get jobs sometimes, even music, you treat it like a job and it becomes mechanical? I want to keep it at that creative stage. I want to be known for that. Doing scores would be another notch in my belt. I write a lot and also paint. Some of my things surface here or there, but I'm not the type of person to say I've done my best thing. There's always room to learn and expand. I haven't seen the best. I haven't heard the best. I haven't made it. I'm still striving. Otherwise, it's going to be dead. If you make the best thing you'll ever make? People talk about the best emcee. Fool, I'm still emceeing! I'm not saying I'm the best emcee [laughs] but I see this thing as still breathing and growing. It ain't over...