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.