I spoke with one of the greatest living producers, Alchemist, as well as Griselda rhyme expert, Conway the Machine, about their latest collab, LULU. Read it here for BILLBOARD. Alchemist is on a historic run (Alfredo, with Freddie Gibbs came out after LULU) and Conway has since promised 3 albums after this one. As of this writing, we’re in the midst of a tremendous era for modern rap and these dudes’ names are on the forefront of that conversation.
Growing up in the Bay in ’90s, you’d be hard pressed not to catch RBL Posse on the radio. These dudes from Hunters Point had huuuuuge hits, songs that are burned into my middle school memories. Between “Bounce To This,” “Blue Bird,” and “Don’t Give Me No Bammer Weed,” the trio were (almost) able to escape the gritty violence they often spoke of. What an incredible shame that 2 of the 3 members were murdered while so young. I picked the anti-cop anthem “Blue Bird” as well as “Bammer Weed” to explore since, I feel, those resonate the most after all these years. A million thanks to Black C for his candor and time regarding RBL’s history and how their songs came to be. For my “Making of…” series for POW, read it HERE. RIP Mr. Cee and Hitman.
“Clear Blue Skies” by The Juggaknots was on repeat at the start of this pandemic. It’s been a favorite for many, many years but I just so happened to throw it on in around April and it never left the turntable (the whole release is excellent, just peep “Romper Room” for another stellar example). I called up the always gracious Breeze Brewin to get the stories behind the making of their classic cut; read it HERE.
I was asked to pick an artist whose work in 2019 was among the most compelling. Of course, Tree had an incredible 2019 with three sterling releases, most of which showcased his glorious take on Soul Trap, stuttering high hats over colorful soul samples, street wisdom and deep memories, half-sung, half-rapped in a gravely tone. Tree’s bare and visual rhymes place him amongst the most memorable rappers of recent memory and we can’t wait to see what he does next. Read my end-of-year feature with Tree for OkayPlayer HERE.
“Verbal Intercourse” contains one of the best guest verses of all time courtesy of a young Nasir. His verse is so swift; sneeze and you’re 3 lines behind. His voice has never sounded as good either, and the company on the track—a ferocious Ghost and an uncanny Rae— remain forever unmatched. Taken from an interview I did with Rae years ago, here’s how “Verbal Intercourse” came to be.
I spoke with EL-P a few years ago and asked him about all kinds of early Co Flow history, including how their legacy started with “Juvenile Technique.”
“The head burner cookin’, emanate thought and grab my phallus
Please, I pump kinetics with unintentional malice
Wanna battle one of us is endin’ up in God’s palace…”
Read how it all went down HERE for POW.
We got some local love a few months back (which feels like another dimension and lifetime ago…) but since then, our humble podcast has made some strides through the last couple years.
My dudes continue to anchor the show; Nate’s increasing technical skillset and attentive edits along with Demone’s acumen to connect with listeners and lead a program in natural, professional ways continues to be so much fun (and I learn a lot from them both). We’re available anywhere one finds podcasts these days BUT also recently got onboard with the PANTHEON PODCASTS familia. Check out the aforementioned local press HERE and, if I may be so bold, peep our list of guests and (please) click away:
Kool Keith, The Last Poets, Little Brother, Oliver Wang, Koreatown Oddity, Roxanne Shante, Fatlip (Pharcyde), Easy Mo Bee, Elzhi, Percee P, Blockhead, Jake One, Jeff Weiss, Apani B. Fly, Apollo Brown, Gift of Gab, Slug (of Atmosphere), Small Pro, J-Live, Count Bass D, Prince Paul, Billy Woods, Beans, MAVI, R.A.P. Ferreira, Curly Castro, Mr. Len, J-Zone, Del The Funkee Homosapien, Ras Kass, DJ Platurn, DJ Premier, Prince Markie Dee, Akinyele, Edgewize, Che Noir, Rhys Langston, Armand Hammer, Nate Patrin, Fat Tony, Crate 808, Yeshua (Dapoed), MC Tree, Adam Mansbach, Evidence, Elucid, Hanif Abdurraqib, Animoss, DJ Preservation, Psycho Les, Uncommon NASA, Ben Merlis, Open Mike Eagle, Nappy Nina, Tajai (Souls of Mischief), Shawn Setaro, Homeboy Sandman, Nathaniel Friedman, Jazz (UN Gang), DJ Cutso, Big Hongry, Don Will, DJ Eclipse, Chris Crack, Brian Coleman, Paul Thompson, Frukwan, Thirstin Howl the 3rd, Jon Sklute, Dean Van Nguyen, Daringer, RAPZINES, Gifted Gab, Vic Spencer, Ohbliv, JJ Fad, One Be Lo, Faith Newman, Kenny Segal, Jose Rojo, Controller 7, Son Raw, DJ Numark, DJ Q-Bert, Domino (Hieroglyphics), Soren Baker, Zilla Rocca, Adisa Banjoko, Traxamillion, Ant (of Atmosphere), Adrian Quesdada (of Black Panthers/Brownout), Evidence, Myka 9, Camp Lo, Amp Live and moooooooooore…
I called Preemo to see what went into the latest Gang Starr (the first in 16 years!) One Of The Best Yet, an intimate next step in their ongoing legacy, with posthumous verses from Guru culled through bitter lawsuits with Solar, whose strange involvement with Guru towards the end of his life, and whose vocal Preemo slander leaves a bitter taste beneath the whole thing. Nevertheless, the new one is a great album– a familiar conversation between old friends– and Preemo was open and gracious as always in this recent feature. Written for THE FADER, read it HERE.
Trópico… is spacey, sensitive, beatific, Los Freddy’s-esque, a little bossanova too. To shed light on the inner approach of Jess Sylvester, the songwriter behind Marinero, we asked Jess to share with us FIVE enormously impactful records that were foundational inspirations behind Trópico De Cáncer.
It’s eye-opening to have thoughtful artists narrow down prominent works that framed their own– and we’re always grateful when they take time to do so. Thanks Jess!
Antena – Camino del Sol (Numero, 2004)
This record is basically ’80s French-Belgian electro-bossa. It’s like ’80s outsider music made by Astrud Gilberto fans. There’s even a song called “The Boy From Ipanema”, which is basically a darker, synthier, and more monotonous version of the original. The title track “Camino del Sol” is one of my faves though. I’ve even sampled it and used it for my other band Francisco y Madero on a song. I can’t tell you the song title because Napster might sue me, but it’s a track I find myself playing during long car rides from The Bay to LA when I’m in the company of friends who might not yet know it. I chose this album because I admire how Antena reinterpreted bossanova and did their own thing with it by using drums machines, synths, guitars with chorus, and solid hooks and harmonies. Even though the singer is French, her vocal style is smooth enough for any Sausalito style jazz or bossa combo.Continue reading “HIGH FIVE MARINERO”
I recently spoke with E-40 who, besides being an absolute legend, also wears shirts that say ‘Eat Lumpia’ and gives back to local schools in Vallejo. I have a bottle of E. Cuarenta tequila sitting on the shelf as I write this. Despite this article not being as extensive as I would’ve liked, 40 was a great interview; present and pleasant, spastic, shared stories about Too Short, the Bay, Tupac and more. It’s also my first byline for Vibe Magazine (shouts to the editorial squad!). You can read it HERE.
Spoke with DJ Premier about the making of one of the best songs ever, “Mass Appeal.” Another one for POW fam, read it HERE. More dissections of important classics to come.
I first heard of Billy Woods through Dean Van Nguyen, music journalist and now author who’s a longtime friend of the site. He graciously sent us this Q&A with Billy in 2009. Earlier this year, Billy released Hiding Places, produced by Kenny Segal, containing songs that probably got the most plays, and certainly resonated most with me. “Red Dust” is Frantz Fanon with a megaphone over Fan Dam era EL-P.
Woods is really settling into his voice and delivery, comfortable with annunciation; he’s more sparse now but takes bigger chomps of the beat. Yet he’s still no less a mystery now as he was in Dean’s 2009 interview, but I did my best to learn more about him as a writer, label chief, and mind behind 2019’s best rap project.
I spoke with Billy pretty in-depth for Okayplayer; Read it HERE.
Cold Diamond & Mink are absolutely killin’ it over at Timmion headquarters in Helsinki, Finland. I’ve been onboard since they blessed us with one of the most touching and barest songs ever, Little Ann’s “Deep Shadows.” Earlier this year, they’ve been on a roll with very solid releases, including 1634 Lexington Avenue by Carlton J. Smith (above, right, with MJ). It had some real rhapsodic moments and overall I felt the album was slept-on. Admittedly, the snappy drums and pronounced bass is what struck me most. But nevertheless I went onto have a great conversation with the project’s glowing vocalist, Carlton Smith, a lifelong student and enthusiast of soul who has in many respects, through a lifetime of work and travel, has become a global soulman himself. I spoke with Carlton about his career and new album HERE.
My column for POW continues with Freestyle Fellowship’s stunning classing, “Inner City Boundaries,” an earworm that’s stuck with me since first hearing it almost twenty tears ago. While I typically don’t always value virtuosity over punch-in-the-gut dynamics, FF has always been able to be both, teetering sometimes between unlistenable and confounding ingenuity. HERE’s how it was made.
David Bowie once recalled in an interview about his time with Brian Eno while the two were famously making the Berlin Trilogy: “Eno came running in and said, ‘I have heard the sound of the future.’… he puts on “I Feel Love,” by Donna Summer. ‘This is it, look no further. This single is going to change the sound of club music for the next fifteen years.’ Which was more or less right,” said Bowie.
“I Feel Love,” produced by the great Giorgio Moroder swept Europe, eventually hitting the US and charted on the Billboard Hot 100 that summer. The throbbing disco smash was an enormous breakthrough for its arranger, a little known songwriter out of Iceland named Þórir Baldursson.
Born in 1944, Þórir (known also as Thor) grew up playing keys before notching some huge songwriting, arranging, and production credits later in life. He transitioned gradually from jazz to disco, with studio work that included ABBA, Elton John, and Grace Jones. “I Feel Love” is now a signature song in Donna Summer’s oeuvre and became commonplace sample fodder for ‘90s dance cuts, even Blondie and Madonna tapped its monster break for late-in-the-game dance-pop revivalism.
Þórir was also apart of another leading-edge arrangement, the oft-sampled “Sing Sing” by Gaz, which of course contained the foundational skeletal shakers that later became Baltimore club music’s backbone. Along with “Amen Brother” and “Apache,” “Sing Sing’s” break was a staple in early Grandmaster Flash routines and subsequently lifted by everybody from RZA to Kylie Minogue.
Through the years Þórir’s name has been so butchered, so miswritten that there are at least twenty different spellings to his credit. Some of them muddied through translation, others perhaps out of sheer laziness (“S.P. Bala” for one– not even close). Strange for a musician whose output spans back to the ‘60s and who’s still very much conscious of the fact. Says Þórir: “Music has been my sole source of income since the 1950s so this is my 61st year in this profession.”
Some of Þórir’s work was used on DJ Platurn’s Breaking The Ice, an esteemed mix of rare Icelandic grooves from his and his father’s collection. Through ties with his motherland, Platurn connected us with Þórir himself, who at a cantankerous 75 years of age, took time to humor us– if only briefly. It’s always incredibly satisfying and gives you hope to see artists succeed solely on the merit of their art for so long. Hats off.Read more
I spoke with Ruby maybe six or seven years ago, needless to say I’m very pleased to see it finally published. The story was meant to capitalize on her music’s reemergence due to a Q-Tip sample that was making its way onto everyone’s playlists at the time. But Ruby’s own history and colorful career runs deep– and her stories were so magical. The piece was delayed because we couldn’t get the high quality images we wanted to. But the other reason is simply because the interview went so well and her memories were so epic, that I kept it close to my chest, hoping and waiting to find the ‘right time’ to drop it.
Well, years later, I’ve learned that there’s never a bad time to publish evergreen stories that will one day outlive us all– the earlier these are shared, the greater the chance more will learn about these incredible artists while they’re around to see its impact. Read my interview with Ruby HERE. Thanks so much Ms. Andrews. What an honor.
I recently spoke with Doc Oct himself, Dicky Long Docking aka Dr. Dooom aka Poppa Large– aka the one and only, Kool Keith. Black Elvis/Lost In Space turns 20 this year and I had Keith break down the making off the album’s hit single, “Livin’ Astro.” Every time I have an opportunity to speak with Keith, I take it. And every time we talk I’m reminded of how hilarious and eccentric he indeed is. Far-out and probably not from our galaxy, Keith pulls back the curtain on what went into the making of “Livin’ Astro” HERE.
Of Daptone’s team of bands, Budos has emerged as the darkest, the ones with ominous sounds and aggressively driving deliveries, the ones where warm melodies are replaced by intense horn stabs, where arrangements are peeks and valleys rather than sunny strolls. The group’s DNA is made up of members of the Dap Kings, Menahan Street Band, Charles Bradley’s backing troupe, and others from the venerated Brooklyn imprint. This year the Ethio-psych-funk group deliver another batch of theatric songs, Budos Band V, that are equally appropriate for car chase sequences or funeral sunsets. Their latest is foreboding, macabre and filled with echo—at times equal parts Black Sabbath and Pax Nicholas, other times a whirlwind of ideas sputtering about, folded into movements and wild scenic arrangements.
Brian Profilio, workhorse drummer and backbone of Budos, details their working process thusly: “It may seem like writing a song with nine guys in a band might make for a difficult situation, but it’s actually a pretty smooth process,” he says, before explaining the group’s formation…
I occasionally contribute to this great print publication, Globetrotter Magazine, an international brand focusing on music, culture, fashion, and travel through an Asian and African diasporic lens. I’m all about it. I’ve written and edited some pieces for them but recently discovered this little Q&A I did with DJ Shred One, Shelia Hernando, co-owner of Cherries Records from a few years back. Other co-owner is of course Meaty Ogre, the prolific Galapagos4 producer during Chicago’s backpack boom (I always dug his stuff with Qwel). Learn more about them and their great music operation HERE.
I spoke with Blu a few years ago and cannot think of a better platform for it to reemerge on than POW. Glad to have a supportive repository for evergreen material with lots more to come. The original piece ran in Wax Poetics Issue #59 but there were so much interview leftovers I wanted to house it somewhere given his sizable and loyal fanbase. Plus, who doesn’t love his work with producer Exile, Give Me Flowers While I Can Smell Them and Below The Heavens? Blu has solidified a name for himself but is still kind of slept on by the masses, I think.
If I sat down for dinner with Benny the Butcher, I’d probably ask him the same questions I did in this new interview for Okayplayer. Super conversational, we talked Another Bad Creation’s “Iesha,” his friendship with Raekwon, and his early years in Buffalo, New York. I was late to Griselda but seriously, the only thing better than their recent streak is how quick their rise was (Check out Hitler on Steroids, it’s crammed with back-to-back good tracks). This will undoubtedly prove to be one of the year’s best releases.
Brothers Westside Gunn and Conway the Machine, recently signed to Shady Records, hopefully will not deviate far from what made them great to begin with. More than just a pleasant surprise, Benny’s Tana Talk 3 is strikingly supremely written, underscored by Daringer’s consistent mastery of the mournful soul loop.
Earlier this year, I had a pretty extensive talk with Masta Ace about his history and was just real honored to hear stories about the Juice Crew, that Biz Markie puppet, and just a ton of stories and insight. More importantly, he’s in good spirits and good health, so thumbs up to that. READ IT HERE.
I was recently in LA and saw this “Born To Roll” poster on the wall of Delicious Pizza. A few weeks back, we spoke with J-Zone and he said something to the effect of, “Masta Ace should be Top 5 alone for how he’s been able to adapt through the years.” There’s certainly some truth to that; just level of difficulty alone, how hard is to do what Ace has done?
I can barely speak without fumbling words. Good thing my playa patna Nate LeBlanc is a complete natural at podcasting– and we were both lucky enough to sit down and speak in-depth with a favorite of ours, Del The Funkee Homosapien. We nerded out and broke down his illustrious sophomore release, No Need For Alarm. Not only does this stand as the deepest dive into the album, but it’s a first in a series of podcasts we’re developing for Wax Poetics and beyond. Take a look and have a listen HERE. And please, no boo-boo heads.
Love these girls and cannot wait for their careers to blow. First heard of them on this incredible track which went viral so members of DadBodRapPod and I got them on the phone to chat about spitting bars, dick pics, weed, and Method Man. Have a read HERE and shouts to Passion of the Weiss for giving it a nice home. If you’re not bumping them you better get a better playlist.
I wanted to get this post up since it’s been days since an update: The current issue of Wax Poetics (In print! On newsstands!) features my story on the venerable DJ Shadow. I don’t think I’m over speaking by saying this is the deepest piece ever on Shadow, his history and catalogue. It’s not only his origin story but is connected to so many deep, fascinating tangents of other histories; particularly Bay Area DJ culture and Mo Wax’s early days of dominance.
Check out some rad pictures and order it HERE. There’s a killer David Axelrod feature in here as well.
(Editor’s Note: I interviewed Chris Manak (PB Wolf) for a couple local websites before his big show in San Jose a few weeks back. We talk a lot about his early history, specifically his start in San Jose. Take a look Stones Throw fans! – DM)
HOMECOMING: PB WOLF PLAYS FIRST SAN JOSE SHOW IN DECADES W/ EGYPTIAN LOVER
Stones Throw is a defiant panoply of inventive music, a cadre of artists whom flout convention while making some of the most varied, artful projects in recent memory. It’s all due to Chris Manak, who helms the powerhouse label which he founded in San Jose, his hometown and early base of operations. Continue reading “Homecoming King: PB Wolf Q&A”
Iconoclastic rap group Third Sight has stealthily built a resume over the last two decades as one of the more prolific and consistent backpack-style acts left. They have effectively outlived the two genres with which they were initially associated— Underground Hip-Hop and Turntablism. By staying true to their core aesthetic, they have developed a dedicated fan base that is entirely too small, a committed group of record collectors scattered throughout the group’s home turf of California’s Bay Area, Japan, and Western Europe.
Is this is all that can be expected for a group that refuses to be anything but itself? Their records are defined by dark, minimal beats, virtuosic rapping and scratching, and a macabre sensibility tinged with scatological subject matter. Before embarking on this project, we knew Third Sight was a niche group, but I don’t think any of us realized how underrated and underrepresented they actually were among even hardcore hip-hop heads. They’ve never been signed to a label. None of their lyrics are transcribed on Genius. Their most-played track on Spotify has barely more than 10k plays. (For comparisons’ sake, note that Ka, an artist mining a similar minimal aesthetic, has more than 10 times as many.)
As we approached several seasoned rap bloggers, the type of dudes whose vocation is to champion lesser-known MCs, we soon learned many had never heard of them. Perhaps this is by design yet their records draw consistently high prices on sites like Discogs due to the confluence of extremely high quality music with extremely low number of units pressed.
Perhaps they are best suited to their role as perpetual underdogs, as their output is by definition not for everyone. Let’s begin with the simple fact that the lead MC, a thoughtful and charismatic rhyme animal with a unique flow, has chosen for himself the moniker Jihad, a word fraught with horrible political and ideological connotations. As a switch-up, he will sometimes refer to himself as the equally problematic (though for completely different reasons) Captain Cum Stain. Every Third Sight album features long spoken sections from the pimp-ish character Sir Limpdic. Every release is filled with the kind of dense, dizzying polyrhythms, both vocal and scratched, that are somewhat difficult to comprehend upon first listen.
So, this 10-Piece Oral History is for Third Sight fans worldwide. Enjoy the thoughtful and detailed descriptions of Jihad the Roughneck, DJ D-Styles, and the rest of the folks who’ve had a hand in this unique and engaging career so far.
JIHAD – MC
D-STYLES (Invisibl Skratch Piklz) – TURNTABLIST / PRODUCER
DU-FUNK – DJ / PRODUCER
JERRY D “DA HERMIT” (Tone Freq) – SOUND ENGINEER / PRODUCER
ROB SATO – ARTIST / ILLUSTRATOR
I. PRE-VISION: FROM OUTTA NOWHERE
Let’s start with foundational benchmarks in your history: How did everyone meet? Had you previously already knew of one another? You two met at junior college, correct?
Jihad: I was in another rap group before Third Sight called Un-Cut Poets and we broke up over creative differences around 1990, maybe ‘91. Continue reading “THIRD SIGHT: AN ORAL HISTORY OF RAP’S RELUCTANT LONGSHOTS”
Our good pal, music journalist Layne Weiss (LA Weekly, Wax Poetics, Mass Appeal) quickly spoke with Oh No and Tristate about their new project. For fans of their fuzzy, disjointed brand of stoner rap, take a look. – DM
3 Dimensional Prescriptions, the new album from beatsmith Oh No and MC TriState explores the concept that music is medicine. But as with most medicine, as with most drugs, not everyone is going to have the same reaction or experience listening to their brand of medication. For some, the duo’s latest may bring about inspiration, creativity, or joy; others may get angry, sad, a little crazy, or all at once. This isn’t a one-size fits all brand of treatment. It is up to the listener to choose your own adventure.
Produced entirely by Oh No, whos comes from the pedigree of Madlib-esque inventions, the album features collaborations from stalwarts Evidence, Westside Gunn, Planet Asia, Lyric Jones, and others. This project comes courtesy of Bay Area stronghold imprint, Hieroglyphics Emporium, and is out now.
What does the title Three Dimensional Prescriptions mean and represent?
TriState: The title is like Oh and I are both kinda on some techy shit. And you know, he does his thing in the world. Everybody knows that. And I get down with the tech shit too. I work with a corporation called Hunt AR. And we do AR (Augmented Reality) And anyway, you know. I just thought it would be a good way to tie in our relation into tech shit. He does VR (Virtual Reality). I do AR. That’s the Three Dimensional side of it.
So the “prescriptions” are each song. I look at each song like a prescription. Like you need to get your fix for your addiction. Listening to one of these songs might help you. Oh No is known as Dr No so that goes into the prescription thing as well. So the doctor prescribes you medication or prescription drugs for your issues. That’s another way you can look at these prescriptions.
I recently connected with legendary composer Galt Macdermot and wrote a short primer on his essential recordings (heads might find the list tepid but this is meant to be broad, quick swath of his jams). In the end, that’s the beauty of Macdermot’s enormously effusive catalogue– there’s so much to celebrate. Take a look / listen to the story, written for Redbull Music Academy (HERE). Thank you so much Galt, huge honor.
The homie Layne Weiss–an emerging journalist whose bylines include LA Weekly, Mass Appeal and others– was gracious enough to pen this recent piece on jazz pianist/producer/fusionist, Robert Glasper. Read a bit of Ms. Weiss’ coverage on Glasper and his latest release, a Miles Davis remix project, Everything’s Beautiful. – DM
By Layne Weiss
When Robert Glasper was asked to remix Miles Davis’ music, he knew it’d be no easy feat. Other artists have remixed the jazz icon’s music in the past, but for him it was different. “I thought I could do it as long as I did it my way,” Glasper reflects. “I felt it was cool as long as I didn’t pattern it after anybody else.”
Everything’s Beautiful, Glasper’s tribute to Miles Davis, features a diverse and eclectic mix of artists– Phonte, Erykah Badu, Stevie Wonder and more whom, according to Glasper, all had a genuine love for Davis. “I didn’t wanna just get random artists just because they’re artists and they can sell albums or anything like that,” he explains. “I really wanted to make this a labor of love because he’s royal to the music world, he’s jazz royalty first. And so I really wanted it to be a real honest project.”
Glasper has spent the majority of his career fusing jazz, hip-hop and r&b together in a way that has made jazz relevant and enjoyable to hip-hop fans. “I’ve made jazz sound like it was made today,” he says. “Every other genre has a representative of today. R&B music right now, they’re not caught up on Aretha Franklin and Marvin Gaye, at all. They’re all about Rihanna and Chris Brown. But the jazz world is caught up on John Coltrane and Miles Davis. They’re not caught up on any new people out there right now. They’re not caught up on us, on me.”
“My aim is to be a kingpin with words, kids will jock my personality like King Tim the Third…” – Edan [Beauty and the Beat, 2005 LP]
I recently spoke with Bill “Fatback” Curtis, longtime leader behind one of the most understated funk groups ever, The Fatback Band. Besides being astoundingly prolific, they’re also known for releasing rap’s first commercially recorded song, 1979’s “King Tim III (Personality Jock)”. My piece with Bill recently ran for The Guardian and I was only allotted roughly 1000 or so words. For those who are into Fatback, below is the extended transcript of our my talk with Bill on their ascent and lasting impact. – DM
Bill’s beginning and love of drums:
“I started in high school, probably sometime around the 10th grade, playing professional. I mostly was playing blues, most cats were only playing blues then. I got the gig because I was the only one in town with a set of drums. But I didn’t know how to play the drums then. And my mother wouldn’t let no body borrow the drums. And the drummer the group I wanted to play with didn’t have drums. But I wasn’t letting no one borrow my drum set so they’d take me along and I eventually got good and played around town.”
On growing up around jazz greats:
“Bedford, North Carolina. It was like a mecca where all these bands would come through and I’d see them all. Butter Johnson and his band would come through. Duke Ellington would also come by. I saw Louis Jordan and all those acts. But I would only just watch the drummers.”
The making of rap’s first commercially released recording:
“That came about because I made a track and basically we were doing an album and I didn’t hear a single. I told my partner Jerry Thomas that we needed a hit to help the album. Otherwise, ain’t no one was gonna hear the album. So I said, ‘Jerry, what if we do a rap song?’ Jerry said ‘We ain’t got no one in the band who does rap, you crazy?’”
“I kept telling him I would love to make a rap track as our single and one of our members at the time was like, ‘I have a friend that lives in the projects and he’s a rapper.’ So I told him to bring his friend to the studio tomorrow and we’ll make it happen. I asked him what the rapper’s name was and he said ‘Timothy Washington.’”
On Fatback’s artistic pivots:
“From the time that Perception started, every one of our records was different from the last. We didn’t stay in any type of genre and whatever was going on, I was a part of it. So Disco was all big then, so I decided to just do it. Then as the band grew, my sound got more sophisticated, my sound got more polished. Then we played ballads eventually. I always wanted to include songs on the album where people would not recognize was us. I still do that to this day. I still put out 1 album a year since 2001.”
Humblebrag: I’m always honored anytime anyone cares about my writing. Read a recent interview aimed at aspiring writers where I discuss my career and music journalism’s rapidly changing landscape. Peep it HERE.
As soon as I heard The Chinoiseries I was hooked. It was very apparent that Onra, a Parisian producer of Vietnamese decent who grew up on ’90s rap, was into beat aesthetics that mirrored my own. His subsequent work was equally as moving and I’m glad that after a few years later, I was able to catch up with him and nerd out on over records. Ahead of Dilla’s bday month, I spoke to Onra for Ego Trip about his favorite Jay Dee flips–peep it HERE.
Been so busy I completely forgot to plug a quick piece I did with the one and only, Sir Luscious himself, Big Boi of Outkast. Having listened to Outkast for decades now, it was certainly an honor to chop it up with Big about powerfully impactful records that’ve aided his outlook on music and life. It’s another one I was happy to do for Ego Trip, which you can read HERE. Some of Big’s choices were replete with insight and surely expected, but Kate Bush? For real? Dig it.
Man, been so busy I forgot to mention a recent cover story I did with one of the greatest ever– the uncanny, most venerable, most natural rappers to ever do it, Tony Starks himself, Ghostface. We went over hilarious ODB memories and pretty much detailed his entire catalogue, touching on rather baroque benchmarks and his profound prolific streak. As of this writing, the followup to his Adrian Younge collab, 12 Reasons To Die Pt. II, is slated for release, as is a VERY VERY much anticipated album with DOOM. Go HERE to pick up what I consider to be– at least up to this point– the most in-depth piece with Ghostface ever written.
UPDATE: Wax Po just made the entire piece available online. Take a gander HERE.
I’m thrilled to have written my third cover story in a row for Wax Poetics Japan. This issue (#35!) is immensely focused on the rap’s first royal collective, The Juice Crew. The photos are amazing, with deep pieces on Big Daddy Kane, Marley Marl, Kool G Rap, and other stalwarts. You can peruse parts of the issue and purchase it HERE .
Since it’s for WPJ, it (obviously) reads in Japanese, but my dudes at Wax Po here in the US were gracious enough to post the original English translation on their site. Take a look at Rap’s clown prince and his deep history, followed by a Q&A sourced from a series of interviews I did with Biz a few years back. READ IT HERE.
Multi-instrumentalist and composer Will ‘Quantic’ Holland stopped by The Chapel in San Francisco last week, showing off chops that made him known throughout the States, Europe, and South America. His style’s pretty accessible, considering he incorporates different genres into his work over a 9 album course starting in 2001. We spoke a while back, touching on his upbringing, the groundswell of support he’s received, and his work with a personal favorite of mine, Alice Russell. Below is a quick Q&A. – DM
**Here’s a ‘Best Of Quantic’ mix from a few years back by none other than J-Rocc of the Beat Junkies.
Talk a bit about your musical background and history a bit. What instruments do you play? What was the first instrument you picked up? Which would you say is your main one?
My Mum and Dad were into alot of music before I was born, my father played Guitar on Welsh Television regurarly in his teens and my mother played fiddle and sang, they were quite a musical couple interested in Folk music in general, Bluegrass, English Folk, Irish. By the time I was born, my father had taken up banjo and both him and my mother had a house full of instruments, dulcimers, ukeleles, a piano and various british made banjos. My sisters had a ukeleles each and I was taught to play guitar by my dad as well as reluctantly taking piano lessons with my mothers friend. It turned out I was pretty hopeless at it all and rarely enjoyed singing in the family car like my twin sisters did.
Your father was pretty influential then.
Yeah, he was a lecturer and part time computer programmer, so as the 80s progressed, our music room was gradually filled with computer equipment, first a BBC Micro and then various Archimedes machines. My father showed me how to program bits of code and eventually, once computers progressed, how to sample and record. He also bought me a cheap electric guitar once I had gotten into my Iron Maiden ‘Powerslave’ period and out the other side into Nirvana. At 16 my mother leant me money to buy a simpe yamaha sampler and that got me interested in looping, especially using the onboard mic to loop up piano chords and use instruments from the house. Around that time I had inherited a Uher portable reel to reel tape recorder from an uncle on my mothers side who had a sound recording business and I had an uncle on my fathers side who was a DJ and record producer. I remember him bringing us a 45 to house, one each for me and my sisters, he was into managing pop groups and seemed a world away from my household’s folky outlook. But gradually the idea of producing records and stylizing sound in a recorded fashion dawned on me.
Which albums have most profoundly affected you?
There are a few landmark records for me, when I first heard Sly Stone’s ‘If You Want Me to Stay’ that blew me away, so did Carla Bley’s ‘Escalater Over the Hill’. I also remember loving Led Zeppelin and Black Sabbath at a young age, their Drums and Guitars seemed so powerful and expressive. As I got further into music and it became more accessible with the internet, I discovered more by Moondog, Richie Ray, Fela Kuti, Arthur Verocai. More recently, hearing ‘Krishnanda’ by Pedro Santos from Brasil changed my ears forever. From getting into 45s at a young age, I had the luck of coming across some really good Northern Soul and Jazz. I managed to pick records cheap like Pearly Queen’s ‘Quit Jivin’ and Russell Gorden’s ‘Double Booty Bump’ and started playing at house partys with my friend Russ Porter. I was lucky, because the Midlands and Northern England has a strong appreciation of American Black Soul, Ballads and Dance music. I was growing up in a period where I could find Chicago and Miami 45s in my local store for cheap but also there was good Dum and Bass being produced, great and exciting UK urban music being made, it was a good time. The Midlands is not the most picturesque of places, but it had alot of Soul.
When you write a composition, do you purposely try to incorporate different stylistic elements or does it occur naturally as it’s being written?
Admittedly, I wasn’t big into Blu before writing about him for the current issue of Wax Poetics— although I always dug the production on his early work with Exile. He has a sizable and seemingly rabid fan base so here’s the full transcript of our recent talk. His new release, Good To Be Home, is a testament to his hometown of LA and finds him on the ascendant in terms of comfortability on the mic and overall more fully realized subject matter. Says Blu: “First off, I have to say this a huge honor, I have been waiting for this opportunity to meet for a long time and preparing for the day I sit down with the magnificent Wax Po!”. – DM
Tell folks a bit about your history with Exile. Your first release was in 2007. How sure were you at that point that music would be your career?
I actually wasn’t sure at all. I started working on the record in 2005 at the age of 21, and I knew I wanted to make a strong debut like all the greats I admire like Nas, Ice Cube, Krs, Snoop, and others. It was a huge blessing to get Exile to produce the entire record. I had other producers in mind when we first started crafting the album but after exile and I did one song, I knew he was the perfect person to man the production on the entire record. I always looked up to Premier, Dilla, and Hi-Tek and I finally met someone from California who was on that level of production mastery. He had all the jewels for me to create and get out everything I needed to express for my debut.
You started as a hypeman? How was that experience as an aspiring rapper?
Well, my cousin wrote my first raps for me when I was thirteen but because I was raised in the church, hip-hop was restricted in my household growing up. It wasn’t until I moved back into LA county with my father that I began to buy rap music. It was right after I listened to DMX’s “It’s Dark and Hell Is Hot” that I started writing my own raps. I was a great freestyle emcee for years, it wasn’t until my good friend who worked at wake up show convinced me to start writing and recording songs instead of battling every emcee for my recognition.I thank him to this day. I remember he always said, “Aint no money in free styling bro, its free”. Then he hipped me to Aquemini. I would eventually hype man for many california groups and bands before my crew and i would get to the point of gracing the stage on our own. Continue reading “Kind of Blu”
* Published concurrently on www.waxpoetics.com
* ‘G Rap’ Image By Kori Thompson
G Rap’s early career was a minefield of shifty fictions anchored in large by a dizzying cadence and attention to detail. And while these early years were fleeting, they, like any true pioneers’ work, set the framework for younger cats to explore. Wu-Tang, Jay-Z, Nas, and Biggie were all spawned from G Rap, later citing his delivery and Mafioso street narratives as immensely impactful and of influence.
I spoke in depth with G Rap for Wax Poetics issue 58, touching on ballyhooed history and other watershed moments during his immensely rich upstart. But there’s so much more to his story, so many colorful characters that came and went in an era where Biz Markie had entirely long beatboxing routines and Big Daddy Kane rapped while doing vigorous dance numbers— all of it under the guidance of rap’s first super producer, the venerable Marley Marl. It was a showcase of fun and well roundedness that underscored the Juice Crew’s heyday.
To this day, the trajectory of his career and its catalogue has been a point of reference for so many, and here’s the rest of our interview, bookended by opulent moments of his storied rise. Says G rap: “I just had crazy confidence in myself. I knew that skill-wise, especially back then, I was an elite. I was untouchable.”
Even though most fixate on those first early records of yours, you’ve had a lot of artistic output since. What are you up to these days?
I’m working on a screenplay. I’m transitioning from rapper back to just writer and am working on concepts for short films. Some of the themes are taken from my old albums. I’m gonna start shooting short films of all these song concepts I’ve had through the years. I can’t wait to get in the field and just put art out there again.
Perhaps one of your well known is “Road To The Riches”. The video itself is remarkable. Talk about working with director Fab Five Freddy.
I was no older than twenty at that point even though I looked thirteen [laughs]. It was directed by [Fab Five] Freddy who I think did an excellent job. He’s from that element, he’s from the streets. He’s definitely a fan of hip-hop and captured what we were going for.
That song was taken from my real life experiences. I wasn’t literally sweeping floors for dimes but if you consider the minimum wage then, I was basically working for dimes [laughs]. It was just my life and things that were going on around me. I mentioned John Gotti because it was the topic of the times. Any part of the violence that I wrote about were things I saw, even if I didn’t directly participate in all of it. I mean, right before the video shoot, this Jamaican cat I knew shot this dude in my neighborhood. Later, the dude ended up killing the Jamaican cat. These were real life things and experiences that I took in.
Let’s talk about the Juice Crew explore that history a bit. How was it working with Marley Marl? He was already known and you were actually the newcomer to the crew.
He’s that dude! Needless to say, he’s one of the first, most innovative producers in the game. Marley was the first one where people knew him equally as much as the vocalist. His name stood out as much as Kane or Biz. It was like he set the format without rapping on anything. Everything he did was behind the scenes. He was in a skit and a video, which was cool since he was already so big and should’ve made himself more identifiable. Then (Dr.) Dre and RZA kind of became what Marley laid out— the dude in the studio that made everything happen and known to the listener.
How close were you guys as a unit? Did Marley keep things tight or were you really more or less affiliates? Continue reading “OG, Original Genius: Kool G Rap Interview Pt. II”
I spoke with Monch about records that inspired his own writing and added to his already uncanny acumen. Check it out on Ego Trip HERE.
One of the most revered MCs to ever do it, Monch’s dextrous verses are at times completely untouchable, intense, and leaves you amazed by the delivery. As the great music writer Dave Thompkins once wrote (and I’m completely paraphrasing, sorry Dave!) : “Monch raps like he’s in total control of every cell in his body.” Or something like that, but you get the point, and we couldn’t agree more.
I was lucky to pen the coverstory for the last issue of One More Robot, the premiere art & music magazine out of Dublin, Ireland. For the latest one, themed the “The Crime Issue”, I interviewed Gift of Gab and Chief Xcel about one of the most colorful yet anti-crime records ever, their debut, Melodica.
It firstly reminds me of being young with a backpack full of distrust for all things radio. But it was also the pair’s first outing and still stands out to me as far as Bay Area rap goes. Pick up the latest issue of OMR and relive hearing “Swan Lake” for the first time all over again. Below is an excerpt of the transcript.- DM
Let’s start off with basics. How old were you guys when this was recorded and about how long did it take to make?
Gift of Gab: We were in our early twenties, I’d say 22 or so.
Chief Xcel: Off and on, it took about a year finish. It was actually released as a cassette tape first [laughs]. We probably haven’t heard it since the mid-nineties.
But you guys had already recorded together prior, right?
Xcel: Yeah, we had teamed up about 5 years before we actually sat down and made Melodica.
How advanced was your studio at this point? What equipment was this primarily made on?
Gab: We were still in our dorm rooms then [laughs]. Everything was kind of makeshift. And although we all had been making music for a few years then, we were just in our learning phase.
Xcel: Basically, we used a MPC 60 and a Tascam 4-track. Not much really [laughs].
Did you two have certain concepts in place before making it? Or was the concept simply good rhymes and good beats?
Gab: It was our first project together and we had been together since high school. We were hip-hop heads and just wanted to make some sort of contribution that would be respected by our peers.
I understand Melodica was recorded mostly at Dan The Automator’s place? Did he have any influence on the project in any way?
Gab: That was at a time when our crew was young and just formed. So even though he didn’t work on the EP directly, just being around Dan definitely had an influence. I think it’s important to always surround yourself with creative people whom you respect.
It had been years since I spoke with the Bay’s own, DJ Q-Bert. But the time was apt given his TWO releases this year and his continued impact on the game. Titles like “Yoda” or “Einstein” would be outrageous if it were anyone but Q. DJ Jazzy Jeff recently called him the “Jimmy Hendrix of Turntables”. Peep Q-Bert’s new projects and our recent discussion HERE via MIXCRATE.
There’s a certain espirit de corps in the following posts, all of which stem from our basic love for Darondo and his music. He was also from the Bay and just sharing the same turf makes his eccentricities and songs personally more touching. The majestic “Didn’t I” struck a chord with all those who heard it– and all who did, all wanted more. That’s how a chance discovery of said single led to wonderful meetings with Darondo, culminating in songs resurfacing and him doing the splits onstage again at age 60. With Darondo, the more layers that peeled away, the more endearing he became.
Spry with a pompadour and belt buckle bearing his name, he was an actual former pimp who drove around Oakland with a mini-bar in his car. He sometimes wore a cape and sported huge, almost novelty jewelry. He had local cable access shows, one was called Darondo’s Penthouse After Dark. There are more lovable asterisks to his story but ultimately, what we adore is his music– the only thing tantamount would be his personality. After recording a few more in the ’60s, he did odd jobs and left the US during the ’80s before settling into the real estate business where he floated until the market slowed in the early 2000s.
Here’s where we pick up the story; Darondo’s songs are rediscovered by clued-in cats who were awestruck and moved, compelling them to share and officially release what was doable. All the funny, interesting lore aside, anyone who saw Darondo live was struck by his natural stage acumen and dirty humor. He radiated during those performances, energized though at times visibly old and shaky.
When word got out of Darondo’s passing, we tapped our Nerdtorious braintrust to cover a bit of the history behind his late but more than worthwhile ascent, including those who aided his career in its later stages. The stories here highlight Darondo’s pronounced persona. If only there were a time machine to relive the magic of hearing “Didn’t I” again for the first time. Rest in peace soul-master D. Thank god cats like you existed. – DM
I recently wrote a piece for One More Robot, a Dublin-based Culture Magazine (part artbook, part DIY zine) that puts out terrific issues offering wide-ranging perspectives on mainly art, music, film, and at times, politics. Its editor, Dean Van Nguyen, has an affection for ’90s rap history which is displayed prominently throughout his work (read Dean’s piece on Mac Dre HERE). I interviewed Chuck D for OMR’s latest issue and Dean returned the favor with the following Q&A; a piece on Billy Woods, an at times enigmatic artist, whom he calls “the most slept-on rapper in the world right now.” – DM)
Making music for well over a decade now, Billy Woods learned his trade as a perennial figure in New York’s alt-rap scene, associating with Cannibal Ox’s Vordul Mega and various other members of his sizable crew The Atoms Family. Embarking on his own career as one-half of the double act, Super Chron Flight Brothers – alongside collaborator Priviledge – the duo crafted a series of records in the ilk of Cannibal Ox and other Definitive Jux signees, cutting the kind of discography that should have elevated Woods to the status of Underground King several times over.Instead, he is probably the most slept on rapper in the world right now.
Dealing with the break up of Super Chron, and frustrated with his inability to find a sizeable audience for his music, earlier this year the DC-based MC threw everything he had into what would potentially be his final record, the solo joint History Will Absolve Me. Reaching deep within himself, Woods produced one hip-hop’s standout releases of the year – a long, smart and brilliant piece of work that rounded several corners of human existence, all of which drew from it’s author’s own experiences.
Having only recently discovered Woods, I reached out to him in the hope of telling his story and unearthing the man behind History Will Absolve Me. I was not left disappointed. Like his lyrical style, Woods is upfront and thoughtful in an interview setting. Opening up about his family’s remarkable history, the satisfactions and frustrations of his career, and the creation History Will Absolve Me in length, Woods offers up the same bluntness that has makes his music so essential.
I came across History Will Absolve Me and I wanted to find out more information, but I found there wasn’t actually a whole lot out there. To start, can you tell us who you are, where you’re from, and how you got involved in music.
I was born in the United States. My mother was from Jamaica and my father, who is deceased now, was from Zimbabwe in Southern Africa. At the time they met, Zimbabwe was still called Rhodesia. You know, I’ve never really considered if when they met was before or after Rhodesia declared – basically the white population of Rhodesia declared independence from the crown, in part because they had no intention of allowing black people to vote. There was like an apartheid. Obviously its right next to South Africa; it was like a less codified version of apartheid I guess. My father was in the US getting his PHD when they met.
I was born here and when I was very young my father was active in the liberation movement in Zimbabwe, and so when they won the war and reached a negotiated settlement, he went back for the elections and we followed soon after. I lived there for the most of the 1980s although I would come to Jamaica and the United States to visit my family and my mother’s side of my family on a regular basis. Then I moved back to the DC area when I was a teenager. I moved back to Maryland right outside of DC.
And how did you get involved in making music? Continue reading “Time Goes By: Interview with Billy Woods”
Here’s a recent piece I did on the wonderful rise of Kurtis Blow, when he ruled the world and when rap was still young, surrounded by doubters, believers, and artists of all kinds. And Kurtis was the biggest rapper on the planet.
* Bonus: here’s a strange duet between Kurtis and Bob Dylan of all people (peep Bob’s “hot bars”).
(I just wrapped up a story on Alice Russell for a piece due out soon, touching mostly on her new project with Quantic, Look Around The Corner. But we also covered her past work, most notably a fan favorite, “Seven Nation Army”. It’s a killer White Stripes’ cover heard on Nostalgia 77’s album (The Garden) which I think resonates a bit more due to the heavy, low-end elements. You be the judge and read Alice’s thoughts on the making of it.– DM)
* Original painting of Alice Russell (above) by the talented Ms. Anabella Pinon
“Seven Nation Army” by Nostalgia 77 ft. Alice Russell [Tru Thoughts/Ubiquity, 2005]
“That was Ben’s (aka Nostalgia 77) idea. He called me up and told me he wanted to cover this song. And the thing is, at that time, I hadn’t even yet heard of it. And so I went ’round to his house and he played it to me and told me he had this idea to cover it. I loved it right away. But in our version he said he wanted heavy drums and horns, which of course to me sounded like a fantastic idea. I love the White Stripes and love the lyrics to the song so much. So after listening to it a few times over and over, I just got down to recording it pretty much right there and then in his bedroom studio– or I should say living quarters [laughs]. It’s such a good song and I loved how it turned out is what I can humbly tell thee.” — Alice Russell
“Check The Method (Remix)” by Lord Finesse [Exclusive WPJ Flexi-Disc]
I recently wrote the upcoming cover story for Wax Poetics Japan on an all-time favorite, Lord Finesse. Though it’s in Japanese it does however offer an abundance of awesome pics from Finesse’s own archives. So many dope shots; from Finesse with Dr. Dre in the studio, to him and Biggie, and even him and Grace Jones chillin’ in a hotel.
Our buds at Ego Trip are slowly unveiling some of the pictures with article excerpts. Peep everything HERE and check the exclusive remix that’s gonna lace said issue of WPJ in the form of an exclusive flexi-disc via Slice-of-Spice Records.
(This one on Rob Swift of the X-ecutioners comes to us from Kyle Eustice, a music journalist from Omaha, Nebraska whose work appears in IQ Magazine, Thrasher Skateboarding Magazine, and Kansas City Pitch. She also contributed an article on the new Killer Mike / EL-P collab, R.A.P. Music, for the upcoming Wax Poetics’s Hip-Hop Issue. On the birthday of Roc Raida (RIP), here’s a quick q&a with DJ extraordinaire, Rob Swift. Thanks Kyle! – DM)
“Raida’s Theme (snippet)” by X-ecutioners, 12″ [Asphodel, 1997]
By Kyle Eustice
In the realm of DJ crews, it doesn’t get better (or bigger) than the legendary X-ecutioners from New York City. Originally comprised of 11 turntablists, the X-ecutioners were whittled down to four integral members including the late Roc Raida, Rob Swift, Total Eclipse and Mista Sinista. Their beat juggling was unprecedented and style, supreme. After leaving the X-ecutioners in 2005 to pursue more personal endeavors, Swift remained close to his former crewmates, especially Roc Raida. Following a freak Mixed Martial Arts accident, sadly, Raida passed away on September 19th 2009. Since then, Swift has made it his mission to honor his fallen crewmember’s memory. Here, on Roc Raida’s birthday, Swift takes a minute to talk about Raida, the art of turntablism and his Scion radio show, “Dope On Plastic.”
What have you been working on since your 2010 groundbreaking album, The Architect?
I’ve dropped a follow-up EP called Sketches Of The Architect. I’ve also been collaborating with Large Professor on material for his new album, which drops this June and of course, my Roc For Raida project is my latest work.