Monday, December 12, 2016

Riddlore? "Afromutations"

     Following his sojourn in Uganda, Good Life/Afterlife O.G. Riddlore? has dropped his latest effort, Afromutations. In recent years, the Rhymin' Ridd has branched away from the sound he, FSH and Ebow developed in the 90s. From his recent collaboration with Texas emcee Mad One, The Claim, to his last instrumental project, Theme Music from Life in Chillzville, he has been broadening the range of the CV Beat. The former saw the Chillin' Villain experimenting with an east coast, boom bap sound, while the latter was an exploration of cinematic soundscapes. This latest instrumental project follows suit, and sees Ridd utilizing field recordings he gathered while in Uganda, where the project was also recorded in late 2015 at Boutiq Studios. The result is a sonic exploration of the Motherland, the CV Beat channeled through a different lens. The project is available as a digital download and as a limited cassette, both on Nyege Nyege Tapes's Bandcamp page.

Sunday, December 4, 2016

Mass Ministry: An Interview with Minister Too Bad

Mass Minister

    The Massmen have made an undeniable impact on the landscape of west coast hip-hop, having spawned artists like Abstract Rude, AWOL One, DKNoDeal, I Smooth 7 and many more. A book could be written about the entire history of Massmen, but it's origins lie with Minister Too Bad, who founded the crew during his senior year in high school. With his smooth, polished flow and masterful storytelling, 2Bad has gained fans across the globe, with only a handful of songs that have ever seen the light of day. There was a lot of mystery surrounding his history and I was fortunate enough to get to speak with him about his career and the origins of the Mass Ministry.

Can you talk about your earliest experiences with hip-hop and what inspired you to start rapping?

    Absolutely. I've been into hip-hop for quite a long time. I got introduced to hip-hop around 1983, 1984 and that's when it started coming on the radio a lot more, and you started seeing the videos. That's when Run-D.M.C. was comin' out. My personal experience: I saw this video on TV called Breaking & Entering with Ice-T. Ice-T was from California, from Los Angeles, so when I saw him rapping, that's what made me wanna do it, even though I had seen people rapping before. Then there was this other thing - it was like the Radiotron - they were kind of mimicking what they were doing in New York, but in Los Angeles, downtown. I went there and saw Ice-T again and I saw not only how, you know, he was able to rap, but also the freestyling, coming off the top and making it up as you go along. So I started off rhyming maybe in like 1983-84.

   I was also a graffiti artist, a tagger. I went by the name 2Bad. See, as a tagger, you have to put something that stands out but at the same time something that doesn't take too long to write, you know what I mean? So I was using 2Bad and when I started rhyming, I already had the name. So a lot of my friends and the people that heard me rhyme, they always used to tell me I was good at storytelling. I would always tell these stories. People would say, "Hey, man, it's like you're preaching, the way you deliver." So that's how, on the rhyming side, I became Minister Too Bad. That's how that came about.

I've spoken to Massive a bit about the origins of Massmen with Jack Clark and We Track Studios, but could you talk about the origins of the Mass Ministry and how it all came together?

     I was living in West Covina during my high school years. In my senior year, I created a group called Mass Ministry. I was the rapper. I had a DJ and two dancers. At that particular time, you remember Big Daddy Kane had those two dancers?

Yeah, Scoob and Scrap.

    Right. So we had our own version but we were from California. So I already had Mass Ministry and I was Minister Too Bad. One day, a friend of mine named Cory Brown, he came to my door and told me he knew a guy who had a studio, a guy that was a DJ that's making beats. They were telling this guy about me, how I had all these raps, and that we should get together and try to make some music. The guy they were telling me about was Fat Jack. This was in, I'm gonna say, 1989. I was living in West Covina. Fat Jack was living in Hawthorne. We drove all the way to the studio. Fat Jack barely knew how to use the equipment because his brother, Jack, had just bought it so they could get started. They started a record company and bought the equipment but Jimi (Fat Jack) didn't know how to use it yet. So I went there and it was kinda like an audition. Once he learned how to use the equipment, I was the first rapper he ever recorded. At that point, Fat Jack became part of Mass Ministry because now he's a component with the music. We're not using the instrumentals from Public Enemy and LL Cool J. We have music now.

So I know later on you had guys like Zagu Brown and The Novelist join up. How did that come about? I know Zagu was in West Covina as well.

   There was a city called Azusa that was maybe fifteen minutes away from West Covina. Somehow, Fat Jack and his brother ended up moving to Azusa from Hawthorne. So that became the origin of when we really started cranking out songs. The studio was set up in Fat Jack's garage. In West Covina, there were a lot of rappers, but there were three top emcees. That was Minister Too Bad, Zagu Brown and Mista Grimm. You know, he had that song "Indo Smoke" back in the day? So we had a movement in West Covina, as far as rappers, and everybody started coming to the studio. Once rappers find out there's a studio, everybody starts coming, even people who don't rap. There was always a studio full of people. The name of the studio was We Track but, for some reason, everybody was calling it Massmen Studios. It was Mass Min, like an abbreviation of Mass Ministry. So out of all the people who came through to that studio, at the end of the day, there was a small nucleus, that was the original crew. Novelist lived in Azusa, and he had flows. He was right down the street from Fat Jack so he was in the studio all the time.

So from that point, how did you discover the Good Life?

    Eventually, we had so many people coming through the studio. Fat Jack, he could only do so much by himself. So his brother, Dejon, bought a space in Hollywood and we stared recording there. There was this function that was across the street where rappers would go, an open mic. So that's where we met Abstract.

    It was a family experience, a growing experience. I found out about the Good Life in Hollywood. These guys were saying, "Yo, you guys have some real skills. You know about the Good Life? You gotta come there!" When we got there, we saw this next level of emcees where everybody was on a higher level. I was already a pretty polished emcee, but going to the Good Life let me know that there really was another level and that a lot of the things I was holding back creatively, I could let go and do that because it's all about being original, having your own style, and being different. I was thinking higher. Everything started to unfold when I started going to the Good Life. By the time we got to the Project Blowed, everything was on autopilot.

You had a really deep song with Digiak on the Sounds of the Good Life compilation about your grandmother and how she was like a connection to your roots. Did they approach you to be on that tape? How did that come about?

    At the Good Life, the lady who was running everything, her name was Bea Hall. She called the shots on the rules. There was no cussing, no profanity, no degrading women, and a lot of rappers, if you slipped up, they'd turn the microphone off and you'd miss your session. When I would rap, I always stayed within the guidelines but always entertained as well. She appreciated it and she had this project. She approached me and said, "I have this project. We want to showcase the different styles, different facets of the Good Life, and there's no profanity on it. I know you already have songs with no cussing, so would you like to do it?" And I said, "Yes!" And there was even a little blessing too there, because the artists got paid a little something for doing the song. And we also had some shows, to showcase it, and we'd get a blessing in a little envelope after that. So I was approached for that.

So obviously your main collaborator has been Fat Jack, but have you guys recorded a lot more than what people have heard? Do you guys have like a ton of material in the vault?

    Me and Fat Jack have recorded at least twenty songs that nobody's heard but the thing is, a lot of the songs were on an older type of recording mechanism. They were on ADAT, and back in the day, the beats and recordings would be on floppy discs, hard cartridges, old school stuff. Between him moving, some of the stuff has been misplaced or lost, man. Yet to be discovered, we're still looking for it.

So were you recording for an album? Was that the intention?

   Yes, there was always an intention to record a project to be released. 

Later on, guys like Abstract, AWOL One, and Smooth 7 really ran with the Massmen thing, but you weren't really as present. Were you focusing on other things in your life at that point, and why weren't you really on many songs?

     Well, I was really into it '98 and prior. I had a son in 1992 and then in 1998 I had two kids. I had one in January, and I dunno how it happened, but it did happen [laughs], I had another kid in December. So now I have three kids. My wife wasn't working and I had to make it happen. I was still an emcee but as far as going to the studio, I had to re-prioritize my life to take care of my family.
I know you also worked with Jizzm. He told me you guys had done about eight songs. Is that pretty much the only stuff you've done since '98?

   Well, yes, I recorded with Jizzm. The two songs I did for Cater to the DJ 2, "Woe is Me" and "U Don't Know," I recorded those in 2003. Also, you know Big Dutch? He had a project and I was on his album.

Was that the "Step in the Club" song?

   Yes! Yes, it was. That was in 2004, I'd say.

So you really only have about six songs that are out there for most people to hear, but I've talked with rap fans all over the world and people still show an interest in your stuff. How does it make you feel to know that with only a handful of songs you've made such an impact?

     It feels good. I know hip-hop is something that's always going to be with me. I'm always going to be an emcee. I still write. I'm still in motion to get some things recorded. I'm talking about a complete project this time. But as far as the admiration people have, it does make me feel good. There have been times where I've been away, a hundred miles from home, and I'll bump into somebody, and we'll start talking and they'll say, "Your 2Bad? The one who sings 'Demo Stage'?" And I'll say, "Yeah!" And they freak out. You know, in San Diego, maybe three hundred miles south of West Covina. I know some people there who've heard it. Some of the crew, they'll be in other states. AWOL, I dunno where he was at, but he told me he was on a tour a few thousand miles away and they knew about "Demo Stage" and Minister Too Bad. It's pretty dope.

Saturday, December 3, 2016

Jack Devo Enters the Twitterverse

   While it appears that Hell has not, in fact, frozen over, Jack Devo has started up a Twitter account. Among other things he will be posting updates on an upcoming magazine/compilation tape that is in the works here at beetbak. If you're into such things, check him out and stay tuned!

Thursday, December 1, 2016

A History of Microcrucifiction

"I saw a microphone crucified on the cross..."

    The Masters of the Universe have a very impressive body of work, with their group and solo projects covering a wide range of styles and subject matter. While their true origins lie with the dance crew House Klan and the mythical Retina tape, the first official release by the collective was Microcrucifiction, a spacey 4-track offering filled with tongue-twisting lyricism, advanced concepts, raw battle rhymes and some of the most potent hooks in underground hip-hop. Over the past few years I have interviewed several members of the crew and have collected their comments regarding this classic tape to present A History of Microcrucifiction:

Bennie "Eclipse" Herron: We had talked, as a crew, about doing different projects at different times but, as you know, when you have a large group of people in any type of setting it's hard to get them on the same page to execute. So Microcrucifiction was kind of one of those things where Orko just said, "Hey, I'm gonna take the bull by the horns. Wherever you're at, wherever you're working. If you have studio access, if you don't, we'll find it, but I need a song." I would say half of it he recorded, the other half we collected from other producers, other crews. But it's a true compilation in that he pulled from all different directions. As you probably know, he actually designed the cover, drew it by hand himself. From the inside, the writing that isn't actual typed text, he did that all himself. And that was the first time we came up with Fuk da Industry Productions.

West Kraven: Me and Orko, we're first cousins. His mom is my mom's sister, you know? So I pretty much stayed at his house is what I'm gettin' at. We put a lot of that stuff on 4-track before people had any money to record. We used to stay up all night and make beats, trying to put it together. And as we were putting it together, we incorporated other people. But basically it was all based on our vision then what they did is incorporate their art and talent. But it was primarily focused on the stuff we were doing.

Shamen 12: The groups as a whole were kind of breaking up. DNA stayed tight the longest. Boot Without a Soul had broken up. Black Bradys did as well and so did Lil Rascals. We didn't fall out or nothing as friends. It was just we didn’t know where we were going with this movement. As time progressed, certain cats grew far apart and started to become AWOL from the click. Orko thought since we were slowly diminishing in manpower, it was probably a good idea that we form a mega group with the rest of the remaining dudes and call the click Masters of the Universe. We met up at Orko's house, in the garage, every day, smoking blunts and drinking beer, and came up with the album Microcrucifiction.

Zombie619er: Back then, that's when we was all still goin' to clubs and stuff, battling people and there was a crew called Insomniacs, and their producer, his name was Toss, and he knew we had Masters of the Universe. So I went over to Toss's pad and I had that sample you hear, "Are you afraid of something?" That's from Freestyle Fellowship, and that was one of my favourite songs. And I was like, "Listen to this dude right here!" And Toss was like, "Well, I'ma cut that up." And that's when I made "Scary Images". We wrote it and then after I made that, it went on the master tape to Orko. And then Orko was goin' to Mad Culture's. That's when they had like a connection too. So then Wally (Orko) got the master and Wally was goin' over there.

Bennie Herron: Most of our early music, it was very improvised. We took the idea, the concept of being able to create, as we create, very seriously. I think even down to the projects, in and of themselves, they're improvised to a certain extent. We made the linear notes, we wrote the linear notes. We weren't just talking about improvising on the track or on the phone, you know, my man over here did the artwork, you know what I mean? Going to Kinkos by San Diego State University to print copies. It was very hands on and very on the fly.

Zombie619er: I went over there when they did the first song. That song was Eclipse and Orko ("Loose Leaf n Lead"). You know, a lot of those beats, Wally already had those beats already. He had already made a lot of 'em. So homie was like the conductor. He would go to this studio, he would do Genghis Khan's song, Bassment, you know, he's on that second side of Microcrucifiction. That's how we got that one. Shit, what was they called? (Concrete Connection) Anyways, it was so long ago. Yeah, basically Wally he put a lot of that stuff together, man. I used to go by Peacez, short for Peace iz of a Dream.

Shamen 12: Orko decided to go solo because he was hurt and disappointed in the fact that he put in a lot of work putting out Microcrucifiction. He felt the other cats weren’t putting in as much effort as he was and was simply waiting on Orko to get us on. No one was doing anything except believing in Orko’s dream and that he was gonna be the person that got us signed and our big break. Some of the cats in the crew were living off of the name without putting in any real work. That was when I decided to go solo as an artist myself too.

Bennie Herron: I think it was one of those things where, in our early years, I called us the concept kings because we came up with concepts all the time. As I look back on it, it was almost a gift and a curse because we were so creatively motivated we didn't give time for anything to breath life into it. As soon as we created something, it was over and on to the next thing. Instead of saying, "Let's cultivate this and give people a chance to get behind it and take it over the mountain." I mean Monday to Friday our styles changed [laughs]. That's what we fed off of. We challenged ourselves in that regard. It's not, "Wait 'til my next album." It was, "Wait 'til my next verse, what I'm gonna do!" Microcrucifiction was sort of a product of that. Not even just that tape but Ruckus, better known as West Kraven, he had this idea and we sort of always talked about it like, "You need to roll with this!" We called it horrorcore. Not hardcore, horrorcore. And it was really dark, deep, if you could relate it to a popular music, it'd be like the goth of hip-hop. It was dope. But even that concept, he only did a couple songs and it was on to something else.

    Microcrucifiction was sort of the same thing. We said in the song, "I saw a microphone crucified on the cross," which was speaking on the death of everybody wanting to be a part this art form, it being saturated and bastardized. Something we really loved dying before our eyes. We paralleled that with Jesus Christ and we were, at that time, very into reading what would be considered subversive literature, Behold a Pale Horse, you know, watching documentaries. It was very sort of urban, underground cult, I won't say conspiracy, but below the radar intelligence. We were very in tune to that, so the play on Jesus Christ, and the Illuminati, the microphone, the cross, that was showing our deeper interest to enlighten people and give them an understanding of what's really going on. I think you can hear that in our music. It was knowledge with lyrical skill with a political edge but at the same time we tried to give you bars, lyrics and skills at the highest level.

Wednesday, November 2, 2016

Ask Mass: Episode 3

    Bring That Beat Back presents Ask Mass part 3, featuring questions from Milen from Bulgaria and a final question by Kiefer from L.A. If any readers have questions for Mass, please leave them in the comments.
Which rap artists were your inspiration back in the days? 

    On the west coast, it had to be Ice-T, Evil E, CMW, CPO, "this is the ballad of a menace!" [laughs] RBX, Too $hort. On the east coast, Tribe, most of the classics. Down south, definitely Scarface, Geto Boys, 8Ball & MJG. I think my biggest inspirations were probably Gangstarr and Rakim. In terms of energy, it had to be LL. On the west coast, of course Cube, Dre, our west coast heroes. But for me, it was pretty much the standard one hitters out the park.
When people ask you, “What do you do?”, what do you answer them? 

    When people ask me what I do, I tell them I work with clients with disabilities on their job sites. When they ask me about music, I tell them I used to work with the producers from Compton's Most Wanted back in the day. I don't usually tell people I produce or rap. I'll just say I like doing music. You can see people get excited when you mention music and they except big things. When you're not able to deliver that dream, it almost feels like you shit on them a little bit. They feel let down.
Do you agree that the fans are responsible for the current situation with the rap music? The whole media – TV, radio, internet fully supports bad rappers.

    Quite honestly, man, I'm not sure if I agree with the term "bad rappers." I think rap, at times, is an aquired taste, you know? I think rap can be like wine or cheese in a sense. At one time, I didn't like blue cheese. At one time, I thought that was one of the worst tasting cheeses in the world. But as I got older and had it with different types of food and different combinations, it started to grow on me.

Yeah, blue cheese is pretty delicious with chicken wings [laughs].

    Damn straight! [laughs] You see what I'm saying? It's an acquired fuckin' taste! And it is good. But back in the days, I wouldn't have liked it. But here we are. We're evolving. Tastes are changing. I still think there will be a market for that style. And I think you'll have more young people who come out and say, "I like that old style."

    It's just like a lot of people don't like country music, but country is big as fuck. They have millions and millions of fans. Here's a prime example: I've given people copies of my record recently and they told me, "If you would've come out in the 80s and 90s, you might've been a hit. It's tight, but it's an old style." That's kind of a kiss and a slap in the face at the same time. I never felt like my music was dated or aged, it just is what it is. If they listen now and they expect a different vibe, it's because that's what their acquired taste is. It doesn't mean what I do is bad, or what they do is bad. It means there's a change in the market's taste. 

 Do you think things will go right and the underground rappers will become the face of the rap music?

    I think the young rappers of today will begin to age and mature and see how disrespectful it was to be out there and not show respect and not know your heritage and show proper respect to the older hip-hoppers. Just like a lot of our generation, who were young at one point, didn't show respect to where hip-hop came from. Our generation, the 80s and 90s, even though we knew where our hip-hop came from, still did a lot of dissin', still was a little bit disprespectful to those older styles.

    I think as artists evolve, they either grow more socially conscious or devolve. They either improve with age like wine, or they degrade and break apart and disappear into infinity. If they rise above, they realize that isolation and alienation and exclusion weren't good things. I've got people that I tried to put on that ain't never tried to help me. I still look at them with love and respect though.
 Can you talk about the KXLU theme track that you and Awol One did?
   Back when I first started doing beats with DJ Slip, they had this thing that they called "beat harvesting." Beat harvesting was basically staying up and doing as many beats as you can to eventually use them someplace else. We did a lot of beat harvesting. So I would take samples from everything, from movies, soundtracks, and at the time, I had a Nintendo 64, which was a gift from my kid's mom. My favourite game was Goldeneye! You could shoot people's asses up in that game. And they had this beat. [hums the James Bond theme] I wanted to make that beat so bad! 'Cause when you played that, when you pushed pause, I think, you'd hear that beat! And I didn't want to sample it. I wanted to recreate that beat, so that's what I did. So Awol had this thing coming up with that radio station, and I had that beat. That's where that beat came from.

   When I did that beat, Nintendo 64 was like the hottest system out and I was waiting for somebody to recognize that it was that Goldeneye beat, but nobody did. I just replayed the parts, used 808, kicks and snares, and that was it!

   The only thing about that radio drop that bugged me was that I fucked up the name at the end, man. I think we recorded it at somebody else's spot. Because it was for a radio station, I really wanted it to be good and I wanted it to be something they'd play. So I did my best to make sure it was a good track. That's why I gave up the Goldeneye beat. They didn't keep me in the loop afterwards and say, "Mass, let's do some more stuff." It wasn't like that.
   I try not to talk too much about that situation because working with Awol was a positive experience, but he never really brings up the fact that he came through me before he got to any of that other stuff. Before the Shape Shifters, before Massmen, Awol came through me through a group called MTS (Menace to Society). When he came with me, he was with some other kids and I took him to Fat Jack and that's kinda how his relationship with Fat Jack and Massmen started. But even at that point, we never were able to work on a lot of stuff. 

   You would think with all the projects they did, that they would come and say, "Hey bro, let me get you on one of these projects and put a couple pennies in your pocket." I don't want to say a lot about it so I don't seem like someone who's bitter, but it felt kinda fucked up 'cause here's a dude who definitely benefited from your connections to people, and sings their praises all the time, but never really invited you to be on their shit, you know?

Doug Shorts Meets the MianMein Ensemble

    Joe Dub and Alex75's MianMein Ensemble joins forces with legendary Chicago soul artist Doug Shorts on the first installation from MianMein's ThreeQuarters label, a 7" record, "Slow Poison" b/w "Throwing Our Love Away." This single is the prelude to their upcoming full length collaboration and gives listeners a taste of what to expect not only from the album but also from MianMein's future projects. While Joe and Alex are no strangers to 80s musical vibes, this project takes it to another level and sheds much of the hip-hop elements, leaving us with a very funky and soulful offering. The music was played live by Joe and Alex and is an elevation of their previous work, definitely warranting the new moniker. As Joe explained to me in my interview with him last year, "Me and Alex have been doing R&B stuff for years. Alex has always had Moogs and Linn Drums and makes these 80s-ass beats. So we've been wanting to get some actual singers. We reached out to a bunch of singers but we got in touch with Doug and I sent him some stuff and he was feeling it, so we've got a nice working relationship. It's me and Alex, all live, and Doug's doing the vocals."

   The full length album, which is slated for 2017, will continue this formula. The aim isn't experimentation, in the broad sense. Joe and Alex are covering uncharted ground in terms of their own musical output, but as with much of their past work, the music just sounds good. Neither artist is a stranger to feel good vibes, and they've proven with this 7" they are masters of their craft. In regards to the full length, "Maybe eight to ten songs. An old school type album, 30 minute album. That's the Doug project and that's kinda been the labour for me and Alex lately. I'm between Hawaii and S.F. so when I'm there, I'm hangin' with Alex and we're doing songs for Doug."

   Stay tuned for further info regarding the full length album and be sure to stay tuned to the future endeavors of MianMein, which is a new beginning for two artists who have already made a significant mark on the landscape of independent hip-hop.

Tuesday, November 1, 2016

Ask Mass: Episode 2

Big Mass

    I've sung the praises of Massive many times on this site, so no introduction is needed at this point. Founder of beetbak Jack Devo provided the questions for this second installation of Ask Mass, a segment where readers can submit questions to L.A. Veteran Massdog about his career, his opinions on music and the industry, etc. Stay tuned for episode 3, coming soon, with questions submitted by the homie Milen from Bulgaria!

Can you talk about your connection with Massmen?

    Hip-hop at some point, man, is a mirror image of a lot of groups and organizations in our society. Sometimes you'll have factions within an organization that pull in opposite directions. That's kinda how Massmen was. At one point there was unity, but at another point it seemed like everybody was pulling in different directions. When people pull in different directions, there are often those that are caught in the middle, kinda like children of divorce. If your parents decide to go in different directions, the question always comes up, "Who am I gonna go with?" And sometimes you have a situation where neither parents care about if the child goes with anyone. That's how I kinda felt about Massmen, at some point. Originally, when I first came with them, they were all juiced about us being a part of it. Then other artists came into the picture and we got pushed to the side, to the back burner.

   When I first came to Massmen, I had already been working with a cat called Rad. He had taught me the basics of recording, how to use a drum machine, so when I started with Massmen, I already knew a lot. When I met Fat Jack and his brother, Jack, they had just got their equipment. They met me through the recycler. When I came in, there were no other rappers at the time. It was me, it was Fat Jack and Jack. Then other rappers started to come in. When more people started to come, the attention started to change. The direction of the group started to change. It started to effect the relationships between people. It always was important to me that everyone was treated the same, but there were often times when people weren't being the same, they were fighting for attention. So if you're not generating enough to keep all eyes on you, you get lost in the shuffle. 

   Sometimes what goes around comes around. If you stop showing love and respect to people, they do that same thing to you. Sometimes when you forget who you are as an individual and how you arrived at that point, sometimes that thing happens to you. A lot of people came up through Massmen, and a lot of people got put on through Massmen, but a lot of 'em really don't know who really sweated blood and tears to make that shit happen. The moral to the story is, don't act like a million dollar company until you get a million dollars. Don't lose sight of the people who supported you and treated you like a star before you were a star. When the pennies start comin' in, share everything. Always give back to the investors. Always treat people with at least the minimum amount of respect and don't forget the people who were there before the name was even created.

What is your favourite piece of equipment?

    I guess, man, my favourite piece of equipment has to be the AKAI MPC3000. I've loved many machines from the Sequential Studio 4400, E-Mu's samplers and drum machines, the SPC1200. The MPC60 was the first one to really impress me. The [E-Mu] SP-12 - a lot of people confuse that with the 1200 - that was also a sampler. I had a Roland W30 years ago but out of all the machines, man, I believe that damn 3000 is my all time favourite, man. Me and that 3000 had a relationship that was unbreakable. I've had my hands on quite a few drum machines and samplers, sound modules, recorders, and man, that MPC... I've had a lot of ones after that point but just talking about that 3000. It was unforgettable, bro. I got my first one brand new, out the box, from DJ Slip, Compton's Most Wanted. It was 3 grand, it was my signing bonus. 

    I imagine an MPC3000 as a paint brush. You know how an artist can take an image and put strokes on the canvas? You don't know what he's doing with those strokes until it starts to come into focus. The MP is kinda like that, for me. When I start chopping samples and beats and drum sounds, I don't know exactly what it's gonna be until it starts to come to the surface, until I can hear or feel something inside, when the connection of the samples are placed together. It's an experience that only people who make beats can fully understand.

    I think the music industry in itself, being so caught up with money, did itself a disservice by placing a penalty on people who sample. If you just sell 35,000-50,000 units, and you use a sample, at that point, you should be paying. But if you chop up a record and you don't make no money with it, and it's tight, you should be allowed to do that. If you earn money with it, yeah, pay the people some money!

    When people started sampling with those drum machines, bro, you heard bits and pieces of records that had been lost in the crates or on people's shelves. It was all dusted off and revitalized to make beautiful paintings. Sometimes you can find an artist who will go in a junkyard and take something, weld it, dust it and and polish it and make a whole new piece, take it to an art museum and people will praise it. Then you take a kid who's taking pieces of a record and they'll say he doesn't know what he's doing! But he's doing basically the same thing. Say you take an old cabinet, you rip it out of your house to put the new cabinet in. What do you do with the old cabinet? You either junk it, or take it to a recycling center. They take it and sell it and it'll be repurposed for a new home, to look brand new. Sampling is like that, repurposing. You take what it was originally meant for and turn it into something beautiful, giving it a second life. It's just like being an organ donor.

How do you feel about the new generation of rap artists?

    I think the new generation of hip-hop is the result of what we've done to hip-hop as a whole. What I mean by that is, the era I came up in, in the 80s and 90s, there were very few people who would really let you on. You had to fight and battle to make it in this industry. People would boo you, give you no chance at all. Also the social conditions that were going on in hip-hop, alcoholism, drugs, crack cocaine, these were affecting our children as a whole. 

    Now, dig this. This may sound far fetched, but what I believe is that the new generation of rap is a product of what we've become. We've become a nation of hip-hoppers that were very exclusive, that did not let a lot of people in, so if you were going to survive in this hip-hop market, you either had to know somebody who would get you in, or you would have to create your own market. You'd have to go out there and find your own fans! I'm not calling them people with disabilities, but you have a lot of youngsters out here who are the products of parents who have severe mental illnesses, so what we have is a lot of children that have speech impediments, emotional issues - not saying all the artists have those today - but what was considered a problem became no longer a problem. 

   Hip-hop is worldwide. So you have all different languages and all different styles. So what you have here is a generation of kids who don't sound how we used to sound. They don't behave how we used to behave. Now, you take us back 10, 15, 20 years ago. When we started playing hip-hop, our parents were like, "What is that? We don't understand that." I feel that it's a combination of a generation of kids who have grown up with genetic, speech, emotional and societal changes which have taken down a lot of barriers. It's no longer a negative to be gay or transgender or whatever sexual preference there is. It's no longer a problem if you can't rap in the format that either the east coast or west coast prefers. These barriers have been removed. The languages, the slang, has changed. 

   In some sense, I believe hip-hop is receiving its just desserts. We were so hard on other people. So hard on each other. Not letting people have a break or get in, so it's only right these kids have found a market for themselves, have fought for it and have found their own fan base. So you can't get mad at them for doing what we were trying to do. It's experimentation, letting people be themselves. It's kind of hypocritical today to say, "this is garbage," when others said the same thing about what we were doing. 

    Now, don't get me wrong. I understand what they mean. Clarity of words, pronunciation, clarity of thought, understanding the structure of a sentence, grammatical structure. That's important. I can appreciate that in hip-hop but I feel I was sort of on the border between both because I've tried to help put people on. I know people who have been put on, but I, myself, have not experienced the feeling of knowing I have people in the industry who pull me in. Like, "Mass, lemme pull you in. Lemme do this for you." I'm not saying this out of bitterness, but when an artist does not have that [leverage, it's more difficult to break through.]

    Facebook gives you a lot of clues as to where the market is. I've seen different videos on Facebook that crack me up of people around the world busting, doing songs, from Asia, Africa, the Middle East, people busting they rap styles, and some of that shit actually sounds tight! A lot of times, we don't know what the fuck they saying because of the language barriers. True hip-hoppers feel that shit, the cadence, the rhythmic patterns, making emphasis on certain areas.

    The funny thing about all this is, in order for hip-hop to become what it really is, just like in R&B and gospel and blues and rock & roll, there has to be evolution. There has to be growth. Hip-hop has grown from basic beats, a combination of other genres, and exploded into trip-hop and all kinds of other genres. There are songs on mainstream channels using hip-hop beats. There are so many groups that use hip-hop equipment, so many fashion trends based in hip-hop. That's my point of view, from the perspective of an artist. On a personal level, a lot of that shit sounds like bullshit. The beats be fuckin' off the chain though, so I don't even listen to what they're saying [laughs]. A lot of that shit, I don't know what the fuck they sayin'. Shit, I like some trap music. Hey, if it's bangin', it's bangin'!

Have you worked with any non-rap artists and what was that experience like?

    I've worked with some R&B singers, some gospel artists. A lot of times people work with you when they think you're about to ascend to another level in the industry and they start wanting to get tracks with you. But if they don't push it, it won't get out there. I've done a lot of stuff with people that never hit the streets. Either they decided to quit or didn't have the finances or lost interest. That's why I'm a bit choosy about who I work with because I want it to actually get out there. In my pocket of hip-hop, if I don't push it, it won't be heard. I've opened up for some trip-hop bands, and have thought about working with some of them. I've worked with reggae artists. It's my hope that I can do more of that before I kick the bucket. That's my bucket list, to record more songs with more artists all over the world and hopefully leave something behind for others to build on. 

You worked with Roger Troutman too, right?

    Yes, sir. I did work with Roger Troutman. I also might be working with a new artist who has sort of a Common style, called Akram Alim. Hopefully I can get some publicity and promotion on him because I want to kind of do a Matthew McConaughey type style. You know how Matthew McConaughey is in those Lincolm commercials, all classy, but do that on the hip-hop side.

Can you talk about your time as sound man at the Good Life, following CVE?

    The Good Life was one of those places that already had its stars. Sometimes, like I said earlier, people have to create their own little market. The Good Life already had some stars in it. And people were very hungry. I think the more hungry people are, the more prepared they are to get out there and fight, and bump heads, show their dominance on the mic. That was our era, where kids were fighting for a position, like for a job. I grew up in that era where you had to pay your dues. Whatever you had to do to get in the door. Help out, carry some shit, do liquor store runs, bring weed, grunt work, to get inside and be recognized. Then, when you get your opportunity, "Can I learn this machine?" Complimenting, praising people, so you can get in the door and be part of their shit! 

    I had to take what I had learned from other people about running equipment and knowing how to use mixers and plugging in amps and microphones and speakers. I had to use all of that as a tool to get in there. So if you're not gonna get on the mic and battle, you have to find something else to do. You gotta sell tickets, set up tables, sell CDs, run the mixer or the lights, you gotta do something to support, to get in there, and that's how it was. What I came away from it with is if you want to survive in this business, you have to remain hungry. Even when the labels stopped coming and when artists and fans stopped checking for you and the money is not rolling in and nobody's coming to the shows and you're getting criticized, nobody's listening, you can't even find your shit in the dollar rack [laughs]. Even when you're down that low, you have to remain hungry.

Can you share any memories you have of the recording of "Slow Lights" where you did the voice of the jacker?
    Yeah, when I did the voice on "Slow Lights" they didn't even actually know what I was doing. I was just putting a background character in it. I just adlibbed that part. They didn't really know what it was until after I had finished.

Stay tuned for episode 3 later this week. If you have any questions for Mass, please leave them in the comments.


Sunday, October 30, 2016

Lions in Jah Kingdom: An Interview with Napom of First Brigade

"Bring 'em the truth 'cause ignorance is self abuse"

    When Ganjah K released a collection of First Brigade tracks last year on his bandcamp page, under the title Weapons of Mass Destruction, hip-hop listeners finally got a chance to hear material from members of the crew who had previously only been known to most people through shouts out on Ganjah K songs. One of the stand out tracks, on an album full of stand outs, was the very heavy "Lions in Jah Kingdom", a solo track by Napom, a song that grabs you by the throat with it's raw, unfiltered message and moody production. But while listeners like myself were grateful to finally hear some First Brigade material, many questions were raised and I began searching for more info about First Brigade and it's members. I was fortunate enough to get in touch with Napom, who also contributes a very tight verse to the posse cut "1st Brigade ..Sewed Up", and who is also planning to record some new material with Ganjah in the near future. He broke down some of his history and shone some light on yet another chapter in the secret history of First Brigade. 

Can you talk about your earliest experiences with hip-hop and what inspired you to start rapping?

    Actually, my earliest experience with hip-hop would be in the 70s, with Blowfly. That was the first person I ever heard rap, to be honest with you. Also, there was this guy called Johnny "Guitar" Watson. My mom used to listen to him, "I Want to Ta Ta You Baby" and "Superman Lover." That was really my basic, first experiences with rap. Then along came the Sugarhill Gang and, shit, that blew everything wide open. We used to go to the skating rink in Venice and that was like the pulse of hip-hop. 'Cause we didn't really have an understanding of Kool Herc and guys like that on the west coast.

    I would say Chuck D really influenced me to start rapping. I'm a big Chuck D fan. Some of the stuff he would say was totally blowing my mind as a youth. That was really before the gold chain era, when everybody would wear little African medallions, or some beads. You see Pac back in the day dressing like that. That was a cultural awakening for me because here in America, a lot of black people are taught that they're nothing but slaves. They have no real validity, no self worth, no one to look up to, as far as history. So that really started my rhyming. I wanted to let people know how I felt about certain situations, so rap was like a voice for me.

    I would say I started being serious about it in '88. I've been doing it all my life. Rap is really an extension of getting ones' message across. Like in the 70s, the pimps would be rapping [laughs], talking that bullshit. My grandfather would call it shuckin' and jivin'. It was something that the community that I was in was involved in. I grew up in South Central, and pimps would be rappin'! [laughs] That's real shit. I guess that's why Snoop is so good at it. That's his mentality. His whole thing is to get you involved in what he's saying.

You mentioned music with a message. Some of the stuff you sent me, like the stuff with Supherb and Marc tha Murderah, has a thugged out element, but a lot of your music you can hear the influence of the Nation of Islam, Rastafarianism, even Buddhism. Is that spirituality a big part of what you do musically?

    Yes, sir. I was born into Buddhism. My mom was practicing Buddhism in the 70s. Nobody was really on no Buddhism then. They used to laugh at us, man. My mom she used to chant these words, "Nam myoho renge kyo" and people would be like, "What are y'all talking about?!" She got ostracized sometimes, but she stayed fast to what she believed in because truly she believes in world peace. So, you know, that aspect of my mom was very influential. I only had my mom and my grandfather, and my grandfather taught me the man part. But my mom really cared about human people. Not just black people, but human. 'Cause her grandfather was Irish, man. My grandmother's father was white and he was married to a black lady, way back when that shit wasn't cool. So she tried to influence me to think like that. I started dealing with the Five Percenters and I learned a lot from them. They were very informative in me learning about my culture and who I am and what's my place in this world, but coming from so many different religious beliefs - my grandmother was a Christian, and she was a good Christian - I had to go further. The will and the need to understand all nationalities, to surpass religion and deal with the human condition. So a lot of the raps I made with Marc, we havin' fun, talking about different inner city shit. You can't escape that. In heaven, there's gonna be a hell. You have an up and a down. You can't escape it. A yin and a yang. You just have to make the correct choices so that you lessen your karmic retribution. 

Well, you've got a great, rugged voice, so that really suits that type of subject matter too.

   Yeah, man, Marc, I've been knowing him since elementary school. Not many people I can say I've known damn near 40 years! We have history, growing up together, playing basketball together. Marc is one of the most underrated emcees that I've ever known. He's super dope! Some of the stuff he spits, you can't even fathom, "How did he think that?" He's always a great influence and a great person to work with. But actually, Bombay was actually the one who taught me to rap.

 Yeah, I wanted to get back into the First Brigade history. Can you talked about how you hooked up with Ganjah and how First Brigade came together?

    Well, we actually started in high school. I've known Ganjah since 7th grade. I know his family, he knows mine. That's how I linked up with First Brigade, through Ganj. Then him being rap partners with Bombay, I already knew Bombay from high school. Bombay always treated me good, man. He treated everybody good. It's a shame he's not here. It's a great loss to society because you never know what people can contribute for positivity. We used to go to Bombay's house and just sit there and write rhymes, and try to perfect our style. I was always the stubborn one 'cause they'd give me little cheats, but I had to do it my own way. The way Biggie was influenced, by the Jamaican aspect of it, I was also influenced by that, the witty words. Like Chuck D had this one line: "The hater taught hate. That's why we gang bang it." That rap blew me away. I wanted to be on that level, like Chuck.

I know there are more songs with you than what Ganjah released last year - Sach told me he had some stuff on DATs he produced for you guys - were you guys making a First Brigade album or was it more just recording songs here and there?

     Yeah, we were trying to put an album together but I think the RZA said it the best. He said when you have different mindsets as people, even though y'all might be on the same page in terms of putting it together, there still might be conflict. But that didn't take away from what we were doing, it actually fueled it. Because rap is a competition, man. Just like when we was comin' up, if you had the fliest gear. If you came to school with some Bally's on and a Mohair Kangol. I mean, how B-Boy is that? Or your fresh shell toes, all white. You know what I'm sayin'? We was always in competition. To me, that's black America, competition. Gotta be the best.

Do you recall who produced "Lions in Jah Kingdom"? Was that Sach?

   Actually Sach and James worked on that, Sumbi. Sach really took me to whole 'nother level because he made me want to produce. Like that one I sent you, "West." I produced that. Sach has always been influential to me. He gave me the first opportunity to rock a crowd. He believed in me and I appreciate that. But I just got a good job, really, [laughs] and started making money and that was it.

Were you producing back in the 90s as well, or is that something you've started doing more recently?

    I made a lot of tracks for different people where they were orchestrating the instruments but I was bringing the sounds together. I was always big on blending. Back in the day, I used to hang out with this dude named Fabian. He was like Supreme B-Boy when we went to high school. Ganjah will remember this guy. He could break dance and he could DJ. We used to go to his house, in his backyard, and just blend shit. "What would go with this song?" That was my first introduction to production and that was in the 80s, man.

So, you mentioned you got a job that kept you away from the industry but have you been recording a lot of stuff low key over the years?

    Yeah, you always gon' do that. I got a studio at the house [laughs]. I'm working with Reasons, Logic Pro. I'm always gonna be in tune with music. My nephew raps. I can't get rid of that. Though I don't listen to a lot of emcees anymore, man. I listen to a lot of old stuff. I don't know why. 'Cause everything sounds the same. One person that caught my eye was Kevin Gates, I liked his shit. I liked his music.

I know you're a big fan of reggae. Have you ever recorded stuff with that kind of flavour?

    I've got some tracks with some reggae dudes. Yeah, I've done a reggae song with Marc called "Throw Your Hands Up." I love reggae, man. When I first saw Bob Marley at UCLA as a kid, that got me into reggae. And Rastas are cool. They're peaceful. No matter what, he's got a smile. He doesn't need to have a mean mug. He smiles and is charismatic. Plus my grandfather is Jamaican. The culture, it's African, but it's not. I like the southern culture too because my people from the south. America's a big ass melting pot, g. 

Did you ever perform at the Good Life? 

   Yes, I did.

What would you say you took away from that experience, as an artist?

   I would say, to me, it was like when I played football and you went to the championship. Some days you win the whole thing, some days somebody would come with the vicious rhyme and you just have to respect that shit [laughs]. The Good Life really taught me how to be a real emcee. I've never been really into freestyling because I figured that I should write it down. If I freestyle it, I might forget what I said and I might want to use it later on, or construct a rap from another rap. There's been times where I wrote a rap and I'm like, "I don't like this. Lemme just use this part and I'll go from there." That's the beautiful part about it. You're orchestrating that canvas, like a painter. Performing at the Good Life was one of my greatest experiences. That and performing with Sach in Santa Monica. That was a great experience too.

Would that have been when the first Nonce album came out and he was getting some big shows?

     Yeah, exactly. That was right after "Mix Tapes." I've known Sach for a long time. We all grew up in the same environment. Sach has always been a good person, man. And he never changed.

Yeah, I interviewed Sach last year and I've always respected him for never deviating from pure artistry. I can't think of one time where he did something musically that didn't sound genuine.

    Hell, yeah! What I respected, he made me dig in the crates. Him and my boy Fabian They had me diggin' in the crates. We'd listen to some shit that people our age wouldn't normally listen to. Like,  I was big into this group called Weather Report 'cause my brother used to listen to a lot of fusion. Stanely Clarke, all those old time dudes. You'd just find these little drops. Even a horn sample, before sampling was really understood. They came up with a rule on how much you could sample but back then it was wide open. 

I heard some of your more recent stuff and one of them was under the name KG tha Dapper. You also used the alias Smach Gordon. What does the KG stand for?

   Actually, it stands for King God. Smach Gordon is just I'm gonna smash out and make some beats. I liked this song on Flash Gordon, by Queen - I know you remember the movie Flash Gordon [laughs]. I'm just creative like that.

Do you have a whole album under that name, Dowing After Dark?

   Yeah, I did that album but I started working for AT&T Wireless. They send me all over the country, making good money. So I had no time to think about that. 'Cause we weren't getting paid [off music]! We wasn't making no money, man! All these great emcees I know, they're better than the top emcees out. And they aren't getting paid. They're dope but they're not marketable or they're anti-establishment. We were more raw. We didn't give a fuck. We said what we wanted to.

You had mentioned to me you had recorded some stuff with Marc tha Murderah and were planning to do some stuff with Ganjah K and Born Allah. Is that stuff you're planning on releasing in some way? 

   Yeah, I just did a cut with MTM, for sure. His new alias is Dank Will. He's got some hot shit goin'. I just had some surgery so everything got put on hold until I get healthy and get correct. I'm getting ready to get back into writing some more drastic. I think the older you get, your style changes for the better. You're more patient. When I was young, I was trying to get into the aspect of being so lyrical. At one time, the pitch of being an emcee had sped up. People like Rakim sped up the pitch and speed of being an emcee. He was so hittin' so hard. He wasn't stopping and coming back in, he kept going! He gave you a full dose of the God, you know what I'm sayin'?

I still don't think most people can touch "Follow the Leader." You listen to it, and it's twenty five years later and you still can't touch it.

   Yeah, I think the person that's most influential, besides KRS-One, would have to be Rakim, man. I love KRS-One. He's from Jamaica, so he's got that original chant style, which is where rap really comes from. If you look at most of these emcees, especially from New York, their parents are Jamaican. Biggie's parents were Jamaican. Just-Ice's parents were Jamaican...

Kool Herc too...

    Yeah, his mom was from Jamaica. In the 80s, there was this guy from Belize. He actually got his style from this guy called El General. He was a Spanish dancehall rapper. This is the 80s, man! I saw it in like '84, '85. The way they put it down linguistically, they were flippin' it! That really got me into it and one of my partners and my boy Quinton, we went to see this guy, Boy Blue - he was Belizean - and he rocked it! It really let me see who's the father of rap.

Any final words? 

    Well, shit. I'd like to give a shout out to anybody who's keeping the true art form of hip-hop alive, from the break dancing, to emceeing, to the artwork. It's a whole network of different genres of this hip-hop. As we used to call it, it was B-Boy style. Even the dudes who was mackin' was B-Boys.  They adapted the gear. Everybody who's keeping it alive. That's historic. Peace to Ganjah, Marc the Murderah, Born Allah, Brand Nubian, all the people who were influential to me. Biggie, Pac. I really loved Pac because he had the potential to change shit. They started realizing they had the power to change shit, the ills we live in, you have a voice.

It kinda seems like once people realized that power of expression, that's when it was diverted to all this swag rap and all that.

   I think so too. I think they see 10 years ahead and they see how to exploit it. I can't even say America - well, I can because it's not a country. It's a corporation filled with people trying to overthrow each other. I think once the corporation stepped in, they took a lot from hip-hop. Back in the day, we could go to the parks and jam. It was more of a friendly vibe. If you had beef with someone, you could break against them. How positive is that? Instead of you actually putting hands on somebody or creating a violent scene where something else could ensue, you could battle the fool. And some people would get upset and wanna fight! But those were the weak people, to be honest with you. Nowadays, everybody's on this Don/mafioso shit. Back then, your skill spoke for you...

Thursday, October 20, 2016

Shamen 12 "12 Kommandments" Reissue

   Red Lotus Klan presents the second in their series of Masters of the Universe reissues, Shamen 12's classic 12 Kommandments tape, originally recorded in 1996-7 under the alias Atom 12. This tape stands as one of the strongest MOTU projects, featuring production from Shamen and Milky Wayne and vocals from Shamen, Matrix (aka Odessa Kane), Kontroversial Black and Zombie619er. As Shamen, now known as Delon Deville, explained to me:

     "I made 12 Kommandments, the album, inside our DJ’s garage - DJ Third Rail aka LOOKS SEK. I had a beat up old 4-track I stole from a pawn shop and I used DJ Third Rail’s Sensonique sampler while I dug in the crates. I didn’t know what direction I was going in when I decided to make my first album. I didn't even name it until I was actually finished with it. I basically got into the studio until I had found a niche. I was head conscious and against the machine and wet behind the ears when it came to knowing about the music business. I never took heed to what the music business was like. I thought it was gonna be easier than what it was. 12 Kommandments was my first kind of style I had developed while I was making the album. I fused knowledge and head conscious lyrics alongside a poverty and struggle stricken message. I kept that as being my main formula. As I began to sell my tapes on the street, I was now getting a feel of what Orko meant when he said you gotta put your feet to the pavement and get it out there. So along the way of chasing my dream, me and Orko were chasing our dreams together, but just slangin’ different albums under the same canopy. "

    You can purchase the tape through RLK's bandcamp page here. Stay tuned for future reissues of classic MOTU tapes through RLK.

Monday, October 3, 2016

Born Allah Presents "No Hip Hop for Grown Men"

    At this point in his career, Born Allah definitely doesn't have anything to prove. He has released more than a handful of excellent records over his career: the politically charged Movement Ex album in the early 90s, three battle-oriented singles on Ill Boogie Records in the early 2000s, and more recently - some of his best work thus far - two albums and two mixtapes with the Tabernacle MCz. But you definitely wouldn't know that from hearing his latest offering, his debut solo album, No Hip Hop for Grown Men. Born sounds hungry on this album, and delivers possibly his strongest effort. His deceptively effortless bars are honed and sharpened, and the beats are soulful, yet raw and abrasive.

   Something that sets Born apart from the rest is his decision to build on the foundation of rap, by paying homage to the old school without re-doing what has already been done. The album sounds fresh and new, while still containing elements from the past: classic old school drum breaks, cuts and scratches, back-and-forth rhymes. Some of my favourite Daddy Grace tracks have been produced by heavyweight Longevity of Darkleaf and Born wisely laces the album with several of his productions. "All In," which was leaked last year and features Jaisan on the hook, oozes funk and shows two veterans at the top of their game. "Warrior's Theme," also produced by Longevity, sees Born spitting with his rhyme partner Erule, always a good recipe. On "B-Boy Anthem" born trades bars with Agallah the Don, a very refreshing move in an era where rappers so rarely record in the same room. The trio of Born, Akim and Soul King, who recorded the excellent "Cold as Ice" last year, return to drop an even tighter track on "Bar Work." K.I.T.s Crackin', Lucky Iam, J-Ro of Tha Alkaholiks, Chali 2na, Dirty Birdy and Planet Asia all contribute vocals, and Bigg Scott, Longevity, BLDNGBLK and Dame Young provide production, and everyone brings their A-game to unify this project with a cohesive sound and flow.

   According to Born, this album was a product of his frustration with rap music in modern times. As he explained to me, "My concept [for this album] is that hip-hop has never been old enough to have this market that exists now, which is grown men, real B-Boys, fans of real hip-hop, that don't have anything to embrace in today's market with the young people. This is contemporary hip-hop for cats who are into real bars. Our motto is, 'We're young enough to know what's poppin', but old enough to know when you're spittin' some bullshit!'" This album serves as an alternative for older rap fans who feel that their beloved genre has been bastardized. His choice to return to the roots of hip-hop and build on the foundation is a reminder that much of what is currently labelled hip-hop is very different from the genre we all fell in love with. It has become a mutated version of the original format, and Born, while proclaiming himself the original man, also returns to the original rap format on this excellent album. This album may be intended for older audiences but I would encourage rap fans of all ages to support this album and remember what rap once was and what it still can be.

   The album is currently streaming on Born's Soundcloud page, and is for sale on iTunes. Hit him up on Facebook for hard copies.

Sunday, October 2, 2016

Crown Chakra Zulu

    Over the summer I spent a lot of time revisiting the music of the 8-Bit Bassquiat, Orko Eloheim. I was reminded that the Sycotik Alien never fell off, and has in fact released two of his most interesting projects in recent years:

   The first was a very low-key collection of tracks released first as a single disc effort under the alias Chakra Zulu and later, more officially, as a two disc selection entitled Audio+Annunaki+Archetect+Autism. This collection covers a wide range of sounds, styles and subject matter. There are aggressive battle raps and prophetic warnings over boom bap, laid back mood pieces with hypnotic chanting, rampaging drum & bass, as well as some unexpected sounds, with a plethora of uncredited guests, some who would be very recognizable to anybody who's reading this blog. With the best tracks condensed to a single disc and proper mixing and mastering, this project could be a very potent addition to his discography and shows a lot of promise in terms of what to expect on his next solo album. I had planned to post a link, but the album is currently not available.

    The second project I'd like to shine a light on is his recent instrumental opus, Art Chakra. While so many listeners likely, and understandably, focus on his rhyming abilities, I feel Orko's production sometimes gets overlooked. And while he has released several beat tapes over the years, some even being full-blown concept albums, like The Acid Bible (Confessions of a Teenage Acid Lord), this record stands apart as an album, a culmination of all his various experiments in sound into a focused LP. The record shifts from reggae and dub-tinged, to spacey and ethereal, to frantic jungle, and is a reminder of the wide range of sounds Orko has covered. The off kilter drums and experiments in ambient soundscapes act as a nod toward sounds yet to be explored. Overall, this is a keystone effort from the 8-Bit Bassquiat and should not be overlooked.


    Orko's most recent project is a collaboration with Japanese emcee Kaigen under the alias Tachyon Ghetto Blaster. The two released an EP back in 2014 and the new Heaven on Earth album, released on Fake Four, collects those songs and adds more. With production by Orko, Infinity Gauntlet, Psychopop, K-the-I???, Skyrider and more, guest spots from Gonjasufi, Self Jupiter, Gajah of Acid Reign, and cuts by DJ Roach, this project has a lot of interesting moments and serves as another solid offering from the Sycotik Alien.

Thursday, September 29, 2016

Jean Powe Stevens Johnson Syndrome Survivor

    Steven Laws aka Imperator presents Jean Powe Stevens Johnson Syndrome Survivor, which details the struggles of Jean Powe (aka Jean in the Front Row), a woman who gained a reputation for being front and center every week at the Good Life. Several years ago Jean was bitten by a spider and was rushed to the hospital with hives. An intern misdiagnosed her with singles and she was misprescribed a medication that she had an allergic reaction to. After spending three years in what can only be described as a living hell, Jean has recovered but remains bed-ridden and susceptible to further SJS breakouts at any time. Her 80 year old mother is her main caregiver, no one has stepped forward to take responsibility or give aid, and Jean is unable to pursue legal action due to the statue of limitations for malpractice suits. Throughout this ordeal, she has remained positive and is one of the most kind and thoughtful people I have spoken to through our mutual love of music.

    When it comes to "true school" hip-hop, which was at the core of what the Good Life was all about, a recurring theme is the upliftment of your people, through positive action, education, and community. This documentary represents that to the fullest and Imperator intends to utilize it to help achieve goals beyond the documentary itself. As he detailed:

Some of the documentary goals are:

1. Spread awareness of Stevens Johnson Syndrome. (Please share on all of your social media sites.)

2. Change the statute of limitations on medical malpractice. (How can we achieve this?)

3. Help Jean Powe get into a fully functional handicapped equipped house. (Share with industry professionals, talk show host, politicians, famous people, etc.)

4. Educate before you medicate (Please do your research and ask questions before you pop that pill.)

5. Get a lawyer to help Jean Powe with her legal case. (Share with attorneys, judges, lawyers, etc.)

Questions from the director.

1. What emotions did you have while watching the documentary?

2. What's your overall opinion of the documentary?

3. Any suggestions?

   Please check out this documentary and consider dropping a comment for Jean. If you have time, or a channel to do so, please consider sharing the link.

Wednesday, September 28, 2016

Emperor Synsideous


    Founding member of EX2 Syndrome228 is still putting it down, whether on the solo tip, with his crew Bully Squad or with the newly revamped TH(Ex2) alongside Vyrus. With several new projects on the horizon, I've put together a selection of some of his newer work. The Soundcloud stuff is produced by Syn aka Debit and I believe the Bully Squad joint is produced by Casper. Check it out:

Friday, September 23, 2016

Chasing Victims Through Sound Systems: An Interview with SCVTTERBRVIN aka Infinity Gauntlet

"If hip-hop is dead then I'm taggin' on the tombstone"

    Infinity Gauntlet, now better known as Scatter Brain the Acid Atheist, has been down with Masters of the Universe since his early youth and first started contributing beats to various MOTU projects in the early 2000s. He's grown to become one of the most prolific members of the crew, having dropped dozens of instrumental projects, several rap albums and collaborations as well as having a deep list of production credits. Through his Red Lotus Klan crew/imprint he's dropped a bunch of material from his crew as well as a series of reissues of Masters of the Universe classics on cassette. He broke down his earliest experiences with rap, his production style, his transition to rapping and battling and more in this in depth interview.

Can you talk about your earliest experiences with hip-hop and some of your early influences?

     I was always listening to hip-hop since I was super young but I didn't really know how shit was made, you know what I mean? I was a little kid, in elementary. I was listening to hip-hop from 2nd, 3rd grade 'til now, but around junior high is when I was kicking it with the Universe more, being with my brother (Odessa Kane) and him taking me to the studio and shit. I remember seeing Shamen 12 working on 12 Kommandments and Orko working on Doomsday Prophet. In Third Rail's garage they had a studio set up and they'd be in there, recording and smoking weed and shit. I was kinda around as a kid and I was like, "This shit is cool!" That was what really pulled me in. I was listening to, like, KRS-One, but being around them is what made me think, "I could do this myself." Being way young and seeing that, I thought it was the coolest shit. I wanted to get in the mix.

You were telling me the earliest beats you did were on the Playstation. Can you talk about your first experiences with production?

       It was MTV Music Generator. One of the homies in my area had it and he showed my brother that shit and my brother was telling me, "Yo, there's this one thing on the Playstation where you can make beats!" He had already showed me how to make a beat. He was going to college and brought me into a studio when I was really young. I remember Joosik Energetik was up in there too. I learned how to make a beat up in there, in the 90s. Around 2000 is when I got the Music Generator and that's when I really got to work with music a lot. I was in high school but I had home studies so I had a gang of time by myself with the Playstation. All my friends were at school and I was just making beats, trying to get better. It had sounds on it and shit. The interface kinda looked like Fruity Loops. I was making beats on that for a bit without samples. I didn't know why other people's beats sounded like that, you know? Like, "Why do their drums sound like this and mine sound like this?" I stumbled onto the sampling - there was a sampling feature in the game - and once I learned that it was like, "Okay, this is how I want it to sound." Once I started sampling I was like, "Oh, this is it! This is how they do it." Then I was digging in the creates, buying shit, searching for sounds. I was making beats on that for a few years. The beat on the first NMS album, the solo track for Bigg Jus that I produced, I made that on the Playstation.

Your beats go in a lot of directions but a lot of them have a really cinematic quality, like you're sampling from movies. Did that have anything to do with using the Playstation or did you come into that style a different way?

     That was just from watching movies and TV and shit. I noticed - once I started making beats - the soundtrack playing, so I'd go to, like, used CD stores and grab all these soundtracks because on the Playstation you could only sample from CDs. I started knowing composers and getting into that mix. Because people were already all jazzed out. Certain genres were really getting ran through. I think even now, soundtracks are still low key. When I was digging, I'd lean towards soundtracks. I still do. Plus a lot of the time no one knows where the samples are coming from. I remember chillin' with Psychopop in like '01 and we were in the store and I bought this soundtrack and he was like, "What the fuck? What are you buyin' that for?" And I popped it in and it was some crazy, hard-ass shit and he was like, "Oh, shit! Okay, I see what you're doing!" You can hear on Audio Renaissance, my first one, it had a lot of heavy strings, more moody shit. Back in the day, Shamen 12 was like, "You sound like you be cryin' when you make beats." [laughs] I'd be trying to get him on my beats back then but it didn't line up. He had his own sound he was trying to do but he was giving me props on some little homie type shit. We didn't end up doing tracks, me and him, until later. I've probably known him most, out of the Universe, other than my brother. Him and my brother are best friends so they'd be kicking it, taking me on little missions, sneaking into raves and shit [laughs].

Can you talk about how Kilowattz came together? Did you start that crew?

     Yeah, I heard I started it. I can't remember exactly [laughs] but I heard homies saying I started it. How it went down, me and the homies were chillin', smokin' out, throwing ideas in the air, and we were talking about starting a clothing line. Me and Psychopop were brainstorming with the other homies, Bleedin, 21 Grams, we were all chillin'. I had this windbreaker and I put speaker wires in it and shit, or took the string out and put RCAs in it. So we were gonna make some shit. Somehow the name Kilowattz popped up, tying music equipment into the clothing. We never made one shirt but we made the crew. The first one was Kilowattz Vol. 1. It was us four: me, Psychopop, 21 Grams and Sounds Like Murder. They were part of another crew at the time called Creatures and I was part of Masters of the Universe, but we linked up and became Kilowattz. Then Tenshun got down, Sumach got down. We all shared the same aesthetic. We were living the same, digging the same records, trying to make crazy shit. We were hella different, but we were the same. We were different but had a similar style.

So did that sort of evolve into Red Lotus Klan or do you consider that something different?

     It's definitely different. See, I was part of Masters but I was mainly doing instrumental shit. I dropped some beats here and there but compared to the amount of music I was making - I needed another outlet. I was a producer, chilling with other rappers. Some of them produced too but Kilowattz were younger, closer to my age. Like me and Orko versus me and Tenshun, we were closer in age so we were chilling. I was like the kid of Masters, the little homie, but with Kilowattz we were peers. We actually have a Kilowattz remix project we did. Psychopop got a Nas remix. Tenshun got an Organized Konfusion remix. I got a Jeru remix. We just never put it out. But I've been thinking of tying together the files and putting it out. Everyone's doing their own thing, it's just more low key.

    When it started being more Red Lotus Klan, I felt like it was more what I was trying to aim for in terms of putting both the crews together, all my homies from Kilowattz, all my homies from Masters of the Universe, and make it one thing. I wanted to have my own thing. I'm part of Masters but I'm the youngest cat from the crew. There was supposed to be a next generation but I was the only one.

Well, you seem really driven too. I think you and Orko would be the most prolific of the crew. Was it sort of an outlet just to get more of that stuff out?

     Yeah, kind of. The stuff I was doing was a bit different. I didn't feel like it was Kilowattz or Masters of the Universe. It was something different. You have these friends, hanging out with ten, fifteen people, and it was a different aesthetic then what was going on with the other crew. I'm not in a position to put anybody down with Masters of the Universe so I needed my own thing, a new flag. It's still Masters of the Universe too, I look at it as an extension. It's its own thing, but I look at it like a bridge. If I didn't come up under Masters, maybe I wouldn't even be doing music. I heard stuff from New York but these are people I know. These guys are just as great, just as talented. Some cats stuck with it, some drifted off.

Is the 12 Kommandments reissue on RLK still happening?

     Yeah! I was actually about to post that pretty soon. I got all the tapes and stuff. After that, we're gonna put out West Kraven Universe Horror Nites. Then after that, I'm thinking about putting out Hall of Fame, Fortune and Death. I already talked to everybody and they gave me the green light but I don't wanna throw them all out at once. A lot of the homies are sleeping on their own shit. They don't realize how dope it is. They've moved on with their lives. They were young when they recorded, but I have to remind them, "Hey, there's people who want that shit! It's cool that it's rare but let's throw it out there one last time." It's cool when it's a relic but I needed to help make that shit available for everybody, especially with their blessing. I be telling people about shit but they can't find it. I was talking to Orko too about pressing up Back 2 the Future and Microcrucifiction, remix and remaster them and put them out too.

More recently, you started rapping as well as producing. What sparked that decision to start releasing your raps?

    Around 2006, I was doing a lot of Civil War shit. I had an album with Autopsy. I had an album with my brother. I had all this music and I felt like cats weren't pushing it. I was like, "Yo, we gotta get out! We gotta do shows." I was feeling real hungry. I was producing shit but they weren't really pushing. I was going hard, trying to make the dopest shit in the world. Not that they weren't either but as a producer there's only so much I can do. So I had a show at Low End Theory. Gaslamp Killer hit me up to do it. So I hit the homies up, like, "We should do a Civil War set!" They wanted me to do an Infinity Gauntlet instrumental set. This is when Low End Theory was super crazy poppin'. It still is, but back then it was more so. We got into a creative differences type argument and I just kinda quit the crew, like, "Y'all can have it!" I was just kinda frustrated. Around then is when I started formulating some new shit. That's why there was only one Civil War CD. Then you didn't hear stuff from my brother 'til like 2012. And Autopsy had Savage Planet but it didn't come out 'til later. But there was a period when I wasn't even making music. I was just running around, getting high, like, "I did all that music for nothing?" I was tired of the ego shit. Then one night, I just wrote a rhyme to one of my homies beats. He was trying to give these beats to Civil War [laughs] but I popped it in and I wrote some rhymes and I was like, "Man, this shit might be alright." I was like, "Man, these fools think they're so dope? I can do this too. I'm gonna work hard for this too. I'm gonna get focused and get my skills up and push it." It was kinda like a challenge for me. It's like a martial art. If you practice, you're gonna get somewhere with it. I was doing a lot of mescaline at the time and that influenced it too.

Well, I was gonna say, when I heard Chasing Victims Through Sound Systems - I was listening to your stuff for years prior to that - but it was a time where I felt like everything was sounding a little too polished and a little too soft and that album was so refreshing. At first, I didn't even know it was you. I didn't know it was Infinity Gauntlet. I listened to that every day for like a year.

      Good lookin' out, man. Actually, that was the first album I released but I had recorded another album. But my friend's hard drive crashed and we never really finished it. Then me and Psychopop started kicking it again more. I could tell some of the homies weren't completely sold on me being a rapper. So I didn't really want people to know it was me, at first. I didn't want people to know that Infinity Gauntlet and Scatter Brain were the same person but it kinda unfolded that way. In like '07 I threw my first track on the internet. It might've been "Dr. Giggles" or something, which didn't come out until years later on Grand Theft Audio 2. A couple people thought that was my brother. They were like, "You're Scatter Brain? You're killin' it." And he's like, "Huh? Who's Scatter Brain?" I was trying to be real low key about it. Only one homie knew I was rapping. He was hype. He was like my first supporter. Chillin' with the homie Sounds Like Murder from Kilowattz, we were kickin' it a lot, recording. It was cool to just chill, not be around like thirty other rappers, and get sharp with it.

So was it after Chasing Victims that you started getting into the battling?

   I was already getting into the battle scene before that a bit. But after Chasing Victims I was living in L.A., in Hollywood. I was living there when we were mixing that album. But being in L.A. a lot, when you're a rapper and you're in the ciphers on the some "can't nobody fuck with you" shit, people will test you [laughs]. I love L.A., man. I had a track or two on the internet, trying to be low key, but it kinda just kept drawing me in. I'd be freestyling in the circle and somebody would take a line to heart and wanna battle you. I think I had Grand Theft Audio 1 out and I wanted to promo my shit more other than rocking shows. So I was looking at the whole battle thing, like, "Lemme hop in this shit." This cat Immaculate reached out to me to do a battle in Portland. That one was cool. Then I got invited to the Red Bull thing where I battled that dude Dizaster. That was in, like, 2011 but the footage didn't come out 'til 2013 or some weird shit. I don't have too many battles in that little format. I was just trying to promote my name to a different audience. I dunno if it helped me or not. 

Well, there's one in particular I wanted to ask you about. There's another guy called Scatterbrain, I think in L.A. Can you talk about why he has the L in front of his name? [laughs]

   [laughs] You know what's funny, we battled, his name is L. Scatterbrain... 

Oh, his name was L. Scatterbrain already? I thought that was 'cause he lost?

   Yeah, that's what I thought! Then he tried to tell me... 'cause I thought it was hilarious. Me and Sumach battled one day. That's my homie and shit. We'll always be cool. But we always have weird little friction where he thinks I'm talking shit about him or I think he's talking shit about me then we talk about it we're cool as shit. So there was a period where we didn't talk for a year or two and the first time we chilled again we went to L.A., to Low End Theory to a Danny Brown show before he was really bubblin' like that. There was hardly anybody at that show. But on the way up, me and Sumach battled. It was crazy. I was like, "This fool's dissing me in a freestyle right now?" So I kinda started coming back at him. We started going back and forth like six times. It was me, Psychopop, Sounds Like Murder and this girl he brought with him, in this sketchy-ass van. So me and Sumach battled [laughs]. We're at the Danny Brown show, the shows warpping up, I'm outside, and I hear this dude say, "Where's Scatter Brain at?" And I'm drunk as fuck and hella high and I'm like, "Is this fool cool with me or does he not like me?" He says it again and I'm not saying anything at the moment because I'm in another city and I only have like one song on Myspace or whatever, so he can't be talking about me. Then Sumach pops up, "Yo, this is Scatter Brain right here! Who the fuck are you?" Sumach was talking mad shit because we're all drunk as hell [laughs]. So he's like, "You're Scatter Brain?" and I'm like "Yeah." And he's like, "Nah, I'm Scatter Brain." It was like this weird moment in time, like I was in Bizarro world [laughs]. So me and that dude are talking shit, back and forth. I'm drunk and I had already battled Sumach. Then he's like, "Let's battle for the name." So it was really testing my stripes. So being on some strategy shit, peeping out the scenario, the way he was calling me out, I thought, "Shit, he might be ill." I finally get him to start rapping and he was coming weak and I was like, "Yesss, [laughs] he sucks." I started coming in, doing me. I started getting real arrogant, in full rapper mode, which I'm hardly ever in, but I was in that moment. So everyone was like, "You got 'im." So I'm like, "You gotta change your name!" This is when I had just started, the 2008 me. Then I saw him on Myspace and he had it changed to L. Scatter, so I thought that was funny. But years later he told me he was already L. Scatterbrain. But he literally took the L on that one.

    The funny thing is I ran in to him later, a month or so after I battled him. I was doing a show with Skrapez in L.A. and Tenshun comes up - it's like midnight - and he's like, "That L. Scatterbrain dude is here again!" And I'm like, "Sick, I'm gonna call him out again." So I called him out again, like, "Yo, we can battle again, man! Let's really end it!" But he left. There was no music playing. All you could hear was my voice, but he leaves. So we rocked some more Chasing Victims, then after, his homie comes up like, "Yo, that shit was hard Scatter Brain!" [laughs] He even called me Scatter Brain. If that's my homie and he gets disrespected, you're getting no love from me. Cadillac Ron wanted me to rematch him on that Grind Time battle shit. But I was like, "Man, that fool sucks. I don't wanna battle him again." Then I hear he started lying, saying we never battled. He was saying he was down with Project Blowed. Well, you weren't on none of the albums. I've never heard of you [laughs]. I'm up on L.A. hip-hop. That's some of my favourite shit! It sucks for me though 'cause if anyone thinks I'm that guy, that sucks, man.

Do you think you'll ever do a Scatter Brain/Infinity Gauntlet project where you handle all the production? Because you tend to produce for other people and then rap over other people's beats.

    Yeah, man. I think that's what it's getting to. 'Cause I'm in New York now and I'm not around all my people who make beats. People still send me beats but I don't have anyone to work with in person. So the logical thing is for me to produce my own shit and make it really epic. I want time to really focus and do something really major. That's probably gonna be the new shit I'm gonna be working on. I honestly don't like rapping on my own beats. That's why it hasn't already happened. I like just being in the producer role and seeing other people get inspired by my beats in a different way. But then sometimes I get the homies beats and I wish I could change, like, one little thing, but I can't, I'm in the rapper role. Now I don't really hang out with heads too much. The only guys I really hang out with here are Boxguts, Pruven, sometimes I go to Jak Trippers crib.

So my last question - I know you have the MOTU reissues you're doing, you worked on a project with Vast Aire and Pruven recently, and I know you produced an album for Boxguts - what projects do you have lined up right now that people might expect to hear next?

     The next shit I'm really trying to push is my album with the homie Obnoxious. He's outta San Diego. We have an album called Chem Trails that we've been working on for a while. We have a bunch of different producers and it's raw as fuck. I usually do all my songs by myself so this is my first album rapping with somebody else. We're different, but we're into the same shit. I also have been thinking about putting out the album I was telling you about before Chasing Victims, just for certain heads who are really into my shit. I'm not 100% sure if I'm gonna put that out. I wanna work with more artists too. Like the Project Blowed cats, some of those fools show love, like Born Allah. I wanna work with those type of heads, man...