I recently ran into hip hop contributor and Wu-Tang affiliate Killah Priest at a performance in Oakland, at the Blunt Club. I was lucky enough to find out what it is he does and doesn’t love about hip hop. …and, if you listen very carefully to what he doesn’t love about it, you may learn something. Yes, you.
The eccentricities that make musicians loveable or unfuckwithable are often times glaring. Agallah the Don is an artist whose persona is one that lends to inspiration, excitement, and a genuine love of hip hop. It was my pleasure to interview him and to discuss topics such as his recent project with producer Alchemist, what he loves and doesn’t love about hip hop, and a secret that is pretty damn true, and real. Trill. Enjoy.
Who are you, where are you from, and what do you do?
My name is Agallah the Don. I am a producer and artist from Brooklyn, New York, Brownsville section. I grew up with Sean Price, Mike Tyson, and Zab Judah. Those are the people that came out of the Brownsville section. M.O.P. – there’s a lot of us that come out of the ghetto. Brownsville Houses. I am a friend of Sean Price as well. We didn’t grow up rappers. We just were born to do it, and it was kind of our calling to express ourselves and to be skillful. Everybody loves skill, and that’s what Brownsville is. We survive on skill. …we don’t have nothing.
If someone were looking for your music who hadn’t really fucked with you before, where would they find it? Where would be the best place to go?
You would find it by word of mouth. You will find my music in wax areas, maybe dollar bins in thrift stores, hip hop sections around the world, and you can find me on others records, collaborating with other artists, because I work with the mass appeal of a lot of artists in the game. I’m just working with a lot of people right now. Don’t matter if you from the East or from the West, I just work with skillful individuals. I like a lot of great artists, and work with a lot of great artists.
What about internet outlets?
Agallahthedon.tumblr.com. Also, you can check out facebook.com/Agallah. You can check out Twitter – @Agallahthedon. In the streets people know me, as I’m doing an open mic in Hollywood at the Brew Dog Pub every second Tuesday of the month. We’re doing a lot of things like that to bring new talent to the table, as well as the up and coming young artists that want to shine.
…and you just had a project with Alchemist? Tell me a little bit about it. How did that come about?
The project with Alchemist wound up being a 15 year span of our relationship as friends and producers. Hip hop tends to forget about history, and how people are in relationships with friends in the industry – of how many people that respect your work. Alchemist is one of those individuals that I work with that had a lot of great input in my career, as a friend, as also a producer. Himself, working alongside B-Real, Cypress Hill, and Soul Assassins, and my input working alongside EPMD, Busta Rhymes, Onyx, Dipset. We both share the same hat, and kind of like, visualize what dopeness is. On his level, as an artist and producer, as well as mine. When I dropped Past and Present, I called it that because, I’ve been working with him in my past, and this was my present. Shout out to him. We are an example of greatness. This is the bottom line.
What are you working on now? What’s next?
Agalito’s Way. That’s my next album that’s coming out. It’s my life story about how hip hop wound up being a factor in the elements of me being who I am. Things that I’ve done, people that I’ve produced for, people I’ve sat with in the studio with, or mentored, or helped and bring to another level. When they have no idea where they’re going, they come to me for help. I am the connector, so to speak. I was, but now I’m more the CEO.
I have albums with the greatest artists that nobody ever heard. One of them is Inspectah Deck from Wu Tang Clan. I have an album with him. I have an album coming out with Craig G, another great hip hop artist. We have a lot of great works in progress, more or less. …an album with Pete Rock, the producer, is in the works later on in the year. We’re talking about it. We’re formalizing it, but first and foremost, like I said, Agalito’s Way is the next album the public can expect from me.
How do you feel about this influx of people who, now, because of the internet, really can call themselves whomever they want? They can be a unicorn, a rapper, a producer, etc, if they wanted to call themselves that.
It’s a free world right now. People want to demand respect on any level. I feel like it’s that one platform where people can say that they’re hot without nobody tearing them down. It’s a freedom of speech, more or less, that people can say, “I’m hot. I don’t need a label. I’ll put out my record with my people,” and they believe in it. They’re following me on Twitter. They’re subscribing to my YouTube channel.
Your people are the ones that are going to support you, whether it’s a magazine, wax, music, or clothing. You need supporters. You need somebody around you to support that positive spirit, people that are going to bring you to believe that you’re going to make it. Your success is built on others, not just you.
What do you love and subsequently, what do you not love about hip hop in its current state?
I don’t love negative messages about life, which leads us to do negative things. We all live too freely. We all need some type of guidance and acceptance to lead us to greatness. That’s what my manager said. He said those exact things, “guidance and acceptance leads you to greatness”. You cannot allow the breakdown of anyone else delivering negative energy into your cipher. You will not win that way. You would have to win with some guidance and acceptance. That’s my whole offering to the universe, and to the way we work in righteousness within each other. Spirituality is a great thing too. That leads us where we need to be. It leads us to great things when I say, “Okay, I like this artist. I got an idea,” let me call him, and get on the phone with his manager, and respect the business way of dealing, first. Do not take it for granted, because nobody wants to give a chance, you have to earn it. That’s my biggest message. Earn your chance. Don’t expect nothing from just nothing. Create something out of nothing, be an alchemist. Create your lane. That’s what a lot of people have done to win, create their own lane, and succeed at that.
Creating the own lane is what the energy is going to do for you in hip hop. Tonight at Beat Swap Meet, we did a great set. It was well deserved and an honor to be amongst others that appreciate that energy. You can’t get that back. It’s like church. You can’t get that energy back, I mean it’s just a wonderful thing, giving the energy and receiving it back as one, because people want that. People want you to give them good energy. People need inspiration, and that’s what I do. I inspire others. I give them that with my music, my love, my heart, my soul, my friendship, and my guidance. I care. I actually do care. I do this for the love, not for a trophy. I love what I do. I love the people. I love what I do. That’s just the epitome of what I’m about.
…what are you listening to right now?
A lot of 60’s samples, 70’s samples, vinyl with beautiful women on the cover, and a lot of instrumentation of Frank Sinatra, Engelbert Humperdinck – his albums ,things of that nature that allow me to explore things that I wasn’t there for.
Who do you think your fan base is? Is it different than who you want your fan base to be?
Real musicians, and loved musicians of our culture. I think my kids are my fans. People that I rock with – you. I’m a fan of you.
I’m a fan of you, so thank you, that works.
It’s cyclical. I get that.
It’s not about me, it’s about us knowing a great read of one another’s energy and accepting that. I feel that anytime I get with anybody and I can sit down and express myself, as well as they can talk, I’m with that. It’s not about me talking about me. It’s about me talking about the energy in the air. The energy that’s going around that’s going to connect with you and as well speak for you. How do you want to be addressed? How do I want to be addressed? How do I want to be looked at in the hip hop game? I learned not to be so much about me. Why? That’s what makes people special. Don’t think it’s about you at certain times. Don’t think it’s always about you. Learn to have consideration for others.
That’s an excellent life lesson.
I’ve learned so much, because it’s more than me. That’s one thing that I want people to understand, we all have to connect, we all have to respect others love for the culture. Hip hop. …and we got to be able to embrace one another like a hug, because ain’t many of us left to do this. I want people to understand that, no matter what you do, no matter how much money you get, no matter how many girls you’re trying to impress, no matter how much jewelry you got on your neck, at the end of the day, we all got to go sleep, shit, eat, and carry our family out it. There’s people depending on us. That’s what it is – hip hop.
Tell me a secret.
No, no. …nobody gets out of it. Tell me a secret.
Tell you a secret?
I need a pause on that one. I don’t even know. I wasn’t ready for that. That was – here’s a secret – let me think about this one. A secret – I got to think about this one, I’m sorry.
We’ll come back to it.
That one I wasn’t ready for. I don’t know no secrets to tell.
We’ll come back to that.
Can that be my answer? I don’t even know no secrets to tell. If you need to know something, just holler at me. How about that?
I might let you go with that.
Yeah, yeah, yeah. If you need to know something, just holler at me. I’ll tell you a secret, but it can’t be on…
No, no, no. It’s going in the interview if it comes out. They always do. I always ask that question.
All right. Word. I thought you were sexy the first time I met you. How about that?
Boom. Secret. …it’s going in. Thank you.
She wanted it. That was the secret, she wanted it. So I gave it to her. I’m a real one, you feel me? Real G’s respect you heard it on Rap Verbiage. I think my interviewer is sexy. That one. Yeah, she in the back writing it up too. Agallah, real one. You heard it. If I wasn’t a real one, I would never tell you, in the backseat, my interviewer was sexy on some real shit. I salute this woman.
What do you want people to know about you?
I’m an artist, producer out of Brooklyn, Brownsville, that made a lot of great hits and still making great hits, and still be able to brand and market himself without nothing behind him. I’m not an industry based person. I’m a love, heart based artist that got a lot of money behind me right now. I also have beats and I have rhymes if you need any beats and rhymes from not only me, but also producers all around the world. We are controlling a lot of music coming out right now. One of my projects is Inspectah Deck from Wu Tang Clan – I have an album with him called Dons on Deck. I also have an album with Prodigy with all my beats. I also have an album with the one and only Craig G from Juice Crew. I also have an album with Pete Rock, the producer, coming soon. We have all these projects and that’s about to release, beat makers, DJ’s, all of that nature of hip hop that needs to be met. Shout out to Sean Price, another artist that I helped become one of the greatest rappers right now in the game. A top five in the underground culture. I am his friend. I am his family member. I am his producer, when nobody gave him a beat. That led him to be where he is right now. I also helped Dipset become a street credible group outside of Harlem, New York, in Brooklyn, where I’m from. I came to LA, California, with my dream of linking up with my old friend Ras Kass, who I also got an album with, one of the greatest rappers in the rap game. We’ve been building ideas every since I got here. My ideas have been my dreams, so it’s led me here to you. …and we kind of like sitting in a gold mine. We’re sitting around impossible, making it possible. That’s just what it is, out of anything we want, with the dream is, what your dream is, what my dream is. I’ve been doing that for the last 20 years, and that’s what I do. Outside of being a lyricist. I love hip hop.
If you know anything about anything, you fucking know House Shoes. …and if you know music, then you definitely know Shoes, as he is at the epicenter of so much of what is good and pure in music. There are few people that are involved in this music shit whose opinion I trust more, whose opinion is worth more, and, frankly, who know more than this man. If you are at all interested in music, not just hip hop, rap, whatever, but music as an art form, this is a voice you need to have in your head. In this interview we cover topics ranging from what he’s bringing to the periodic table, the artists he’s working with, why he’s such an asshole, and much more. Enjoy.
Who are you, where are you from, and what the fuck do you do?
House Shoes. I’m from Detroit a long time ago, but I live in Los Angeles, California. I do many things. I’m an advocate for advocation.
What’s your main focus right now?
Street Corner Music.
…tell me more.
Street Corner Music is my newest endeavor. I put records out a while back – that’s what I’m on, you know what I mean? Putting records out. Physical, actual, records. Music that actually exists in the world. You know? If someone turned off the internet, my shit will still be here.
Who’re you working with?
Well, I have a series called The Gift that’s kind of spotlighting new, relatively unknown producers. I have like 10 volumes of that shit on deck. It started as a free download series on djhouseshoes.com, and then I decided to make it official by creating a new imprint with Fat Beats distribution. The first three LP’s have been released and sold out by or on the release date. Volume 4 drops this week. All seven volumes are available on the site, with the eighth dropping tomorrow. I’ve got a release schedule through like May or June of next year. 20, 25 records.
Just hooked up with Oh No last month, went out to his crib, we gon’ do some things. Putting out Danny Brown’s first album Hot Soup for Record Store Day. Doing shit with Knxwledge, 14KT, Marv Won – it’s just fucking good music, you know what I mean? I’m excited about it.
Why do you think that you have such a fanatical following – myself included.
I don’t see it. You know what I mean? It’s cool, I go to a place like the Beat Swap Meet, and a couple cats want to take pictures, you know – it makes me feel good about what I’m doing. I’m touching some people out here – pause.
I don’t see the cult shit. You know, I just talk my shit, nobody talks shit anymore. Nobody talks about what it should be – fuck what it used to be. It’s what it should be. That shit is never going to change, so – I have opinions on things, and I speak about them.
What should it be? What is it?
It should be fresh, you know what I mean? It should be fresh. If it ain’t fresh, and motherfuckers saying it’s fresh, it ain’t fucking fresh. I’m going to tell ya’ll it ain’t fresh. If I see fuck shit going on in my circumference, I’m going to speak on it. I just think – there’s a small vein of people who gravitate towards that, and I appreciate it. You know what I mean?
Okay, so you’re big into social network –
I’m on twitter – I put pictures of my kids on Instagram, but I talk my shit on twitter. I’m definitely not trapped like – I was stuck in that bitch for a while. I definitely think I’ve learned to balance. Like, I can take a day or two off. I’m chilling. Living my life, for real. Actually, not virtually.
It’s tough on that virtual shit, cause it’s motherfuckers you can’t see face to face. Got to lead your flock. I’m not a religious dude, but, I feel like I’m a shepherd from time to time, you know what I mean?
…so where are you leading your sheep?
Man. I don’t know man. I just try to lead by example. I don’t tell motherfuckers what to do. I can’t really tell you what you should be. Just do what’s right, because, at the end of the day, it’s right and it’s wrong out here. You’re either doing right, or you’re doing wrong. If you make music, shit is either fresh, or it’s wack. It ain’t no in between. It’s no such thing as mediocre. Because you’re never going to listen to a mediocre record, like you’re never going to listen to a wack record. It’s all the same shit. It’s either shit that you’re going to listen to again, or it’s shit you’re not. It’s shit you should do, it’s shit you don’t do.
How do you feel about music that you can respect, but you don’t necessarily like or want to listen to?
Drake! I fuck with Drake on occasion.
Yeah, but you listen to Drake!
Not in my spare time – I might listen to like some So Far Gone Shit.
You love Fireworks.
Or, fuckin’ – Lord Knows. …at the end of the day, cats is just going to be mad at whoever’s poppin’. Because their not poppin’. You can’t pop keeping it real. You can try to maintain some type of balance, that’s what I respect about him. He still puts a couple joints on there for motherfuckers, you know what I mean?
I mean, at the end of the day, who cares what anyone else is doing? You need to be focusing on what the fuck you doing. A lot of criticism comes from people who should shut the fuck up and do something. You know what I mean? Like, you out here talking like – I got shit to back me up, I got a catalogue. You know what I mean? I’ve done things in this rap shit that have had an impact, and that matter. …and so have people I’ve fucked with. I only fuck with people that do that, you know what I mean? You could do your homework. You know, check your history books. If you ain’t doing shit then you really need to shut the fuck up.
You recently made a statement that, basically, people want you to be an asshole.
WELL I AM AN ASSHOLE.
…why don’t you say that a little louder?
But I’m damn near 40 year old, and I got kids now. I’m not trying to be that for the rest of my life, know what I mean? You’ve got to grow the fuck up, sometimes. I’m trying to be older, wiser – I am a wise motherfucker, but I got a lot to learn.
I don’t want my kids to grow up and know that’s what the fuck I was all about. …and at the end of the day, that’s not really what the fuck I’m all about, that’s just what people gravitate to. They don’t understand, you know, I’m an advocate. Like I said, it may sound weird, but I’m an advocate for advocation. If you have a position, and you don’t do shit with it, you’re wasting that shit. You know what I mean? Like, I’ve been blessed with a platform, and I’ve done shit to try and educate motherfuckers with it. How I feel like educating them, you know what I mean? I do my shit. That’s just how I am.
I’m a passionate motherfucker. This art is important to me and a lot of so called artists are fucking up the gene pool. I don’t take too kindly to that. So I bark on these motherfuckers.
Don’t think of House Shoes as just being an asshole – House Shoes is a motherfucker that knows his shit. The aesthetic of music that I push and portray to the people is fucking beautiful music. If you can see through that – if you can get over all the gloss and the headlines, and just enjoy the show, and sit with the shit I’m telling ya’ll to fuck with, that’s when cats will really understand what I’m about.
So, a question I’ve had for you for a minute – how do you feel about hyper mainstream cats like Drake and Ross giving shoutouts to Dilla?
IT’S FRESH! I mean, I don’t think – I don’t think that a motherfucker that’s making millions of dollars – the handful of motherfuckers that are really getting money in this shit, they have absolutely no reason to sprinkle that shit on a record for whatevers sake. I think that shit is obvious. You get a motherfucker like Rick Ross, who makes the best records in the game on that platform – cats look at me like “what the fuck are you talking about”, I’m like, that shit is fantastic.
…and I don’t care about the kids, man. Like, I’ll be real with you. I don’t give a fuck – this might sound really fucked up, but, I don’t care if anybody hears Dilla’s shit ever again. I’m not about – I only care about the motherfuckers that was there when it was going down. You know what I mean?
When I do like the King James shit – when I dig for records, I only buy Dilla shit – you know what I mean? I want to find Dilla shit and crack motherfuckers heads, but the motherfuckers heads who was there in the spots, and whose music directly touched him while it was going down, you know what I mean? It’s dope, cause fucking – Rick Ross might turn a head. Get some fucking kid onto some shit, and he might turn into the next one. Might be a brand new, entire entity, so it’s dope.
Drake did it too.
He did – but he needs to actually do the shit though. He talked about it, but – put that paper up and get that Dilla joint on your next shit.
So, when I interviewed you previously, we talked about Dilla – but it got taken out of the interview. What are your feelings now? At this point, I feel like, you’re kind of the soul survivor, in terms of the person people look to for information. Like, how does that make you feel, having that resting on you?
It’s wack. I mean, it’s not wack. It’s an honor, but like, it’s taken my 5, 6 years to just get over the point of doing interviews and motherfuckers just – it’s all Dilla. You know what I mean. Dilla was my man. I love him to death, I’m always gon’ rep, carry the flag, but – I’m doing my shit too. …and a lot of shit went down that really – I’m very happy that an opportunity presented itself for me to understand that, you know what I mean? Dilla wouldn’t want me out here fucking talking about Dilla, Dilla would – he was always wanting House Shoes to do some shit. So, I wish he was here to see the records, you know what I mean?
Thinking about the artists you work with, particularly the lesser known ones, how do you feel they’re going to get the shine you think they deserve?
See, the fucked up thing is, me, I’m damn near 40, I got a family, I got two kids, I got life situations I’ve got to deal with, and I do this music – equally, you know what I’m saying? So I don’t got, like, support systems and all that. I don’t have the time to be a promoter – I present music to people. Pay attention, or fucking stay asleep and lose.
I can cook the best steak you ever had in your life and put it on the table – you might not eat the motherfucker. You fucked up. It was the best steak you ever would have had in your motherfucking life.
I can’t really do nothing else. I’m sure, you know, there will definitely be growth within my system in the future, but as of right now, I don’t fuck with bullshit, so if you’ve seen me tell you listen to some shit, listen to some shit. Buy it. Fuck with the motherfuckers I fuck with, because they all got heat. You’d be a fucking idiot not to. Everybody complains about how there’s nothing out here – there’s so much out here. …and I’m giving you like a guided fucking tour.
How do you feel about Detroit’s music scene as of right now?
I’ll be real with you, I couldn’t even tell you. I’ve been out here for damn near 8 years. Tunnel vision. I’m House Shoes. I’m Street Corner Music. You know what I mean? Diapers. Nintendo fucking Wii U. Playing Super Mario Brothers with my son and shit. It’s fantastic. It’s always going to be heat back at the crib, I just – I’m just trying to build my own shit – carve out my own terrain within the entire world. It’s always going to be heat back at the crib. I’m trying to expose heat from everywhere. I spent a lot of time fucking shining a light on the crib – I’m always going to do that. Putting Detroit shit out on the label, of course I’m going to do that. I’ve got to spend that time finding some shit on the moon – you know what I mean? People got beats on the moon, let’s get that shit out there.
What’s 2014 looking like?
Oh shit, just got back from Australia and New Zealand. Got some dialogues going on with South Africa.
TAKE ME WITH YOU!
Bangkok, going back to Europe in June, finally, it’s been a minute since I been out there. Spending time with my kids, man. Trying to balance studio shit, you know? Me and Big Tone got a whole record coming that’s fantastic. Just records and babies. That’s pretty much what you got to look forward to. You gon’ see something in the shop at least ever 4-6 weeks, and don’t sleep, because it’s limited numbers. You sleep, you gon’ miss it. …stuck with a hoe ass MP3.
Dilla changed my life versus Dilla changed my t-shirt. …talk to me about the distinction, and your frustrations around it.
I don’t think cats truly understand what a life changing experience is. It’s not something as casual as hearing donuts and copping a t-shirt because Stones Throw is a cool record label. Maybe I’m wrong though. Everybody got a fucking Dilla shirt. …maybe those t-shirts change lives for real.
Who’re you listening to right now?
Ghost at the Finish Line is still in heavy rotation. Cult classic. Tiny Hearts. Don’t sleep on Waajeed. Pinata. Black Milk’s Glitches in the Break is fucking fantastic. Vol 8 of the gift, Raj Mahal, is my fucking shit. Probably my favorite of them all. I wish I had the new Guilty album produced by the Quakers. Katalyst played me that shit when I was in Australia – shit was fucking bananas. But honestly, for the most part, the majority of my ears have been going to this Street Corner Music shit. Listening over and over. 20 records on deck, and growing everyday. From The Gift shit, seven deep on that with Raj dropping on Easter, to the Hot Soup shit, to Knxwledge records, 14KT unreleased, some wild shit from Oh No, MarvWon and Chanes album “The Last Hope”, Jimetta Rose is going do an album over beats from The Gift series, Moe Dirdee LP produced by DRUGS – that’s what I’m listening to really. Street Corner Music shit.
…let the world know the distinction between rap and hip hop.
This discussion is so dated, clichéd, and corny. I will vomit the next time I hear “Rap is something you do, hip hop is something you live.” That shit is all the fucking same. Rap came from hip hop. The act in itself. Who the fuck wants to sit around and argue about dumb shit like this? Hip hop ass motherfuckers. Card carrying cornballs.
Don’t take this the wrong way, but, why are you such an asshole?
I’m an asshole because I don’t give a fuck about what none of ya’ll are doing. This is my stage.
At the end of the day, what’s it all for?
It’s for the art. Not hip hop art, not rap art, just fucking art, period. It’s all for me, too – my legacy. What my children will be told of me.
What’s something you’ve always wanted to be asked in an interview, but never have been?
What makes you smile?
My children. A dope beat. A bunch of Jameson. …and good sex.
You have almost 30,000 followers on Twitter. …if every one of those individuals, myself included, bought something from you (some wax, a digital download, a fucking “I ❤ House Shoes” thong, whatever), shit would be very different. Now, as a person who has paid to see you DJ 8.4 billion times, purchased fucking CDs that you hand wrote on from you, etc, etc, that makes me feel some type of way. Does that make you feel some type of way? By that I mean, does the lack of financial support from people who claim to love what you do, what you represent, etc, frustrate the fuck out of you? What’re your thoughts on it? Feel free to speak to not just yourself, but this phenomenon of lack of artist support in general.
I’m doing what I do because that is what I was put on this planet for. I know I will never be rich. That’s what happens when you have integrity. I’m not chasing the paper. I’m putting out heat for people that ain’t dumb as fucking rocks. I’m making my little piece my way. Cats should try it sometime.
Tell me a secret.
AWWWWWWWWWWWWW! Fuck. …you already know the secret.
Oh. Another secret.
Everybody knows I drink Jameson. Fuck. A secret?
A secret! You’re afraid of kittens. You like the drink purple Kool Aid at 3:01am.
I just drank a Shirley Temple, yo.
I went to the bar – we’re at the Beat Swap Meet, and for some fucking reason, I had an uncontrollable urge to get a Shirley Temple. …and that shit was so motherfucking good.
I felt like I was 12 years old. Aww, that shit was so good. …and I was like, “give me the heaviest beer you have” to kind of balance it out. So that’s my secret – Shirley Temples.
The funny thing is – I’ll tell you a secret about someone else. DJ Dez, who’s like, one of my mentors in this hip hop shit. We been DJing together for fucking years, but like, he never really drank. He always just smoked a ton of weed. …and the first time I went to buy him a fucking drink, he asked for a Shirley Temple.
They’re good as fuck!
Yeah, but – that really fucked my world up. My mentor, and he’s drinking a bitch ass drink.
They’re good. …you can’t be mad at good. It doesn’t matter what it’s called, or what it looks like. If it’s good, it’s good.
What do you want people to know about you that they don’t already?
Aww, fuck! What do they not know already? You got to ask a better question than that.
I don’t know!
What do they not know?
I mean, YOU know what people don’t know, not me.
Yeah, but that shit doesn’t matter. Just to tell you some shit that you don’t know about me – but if you don’t know, motherfucker, I’m about to put out the best records in the world. I guess I can say that. If you don’t know, Street Corner Music – I’m trying to be the dude, like, in the whole beat discussion, like, real shit, like, grimy shit, like, real beats? My name has to be in that conversation. Period. That’s my mission. …let all the heat out. You know what I mean? So if you don’t know that, bitch I’m telling you.
There are individuals in the culture of hip hop that have truly helped create what we have all come to know and love. Ras Kass is one of those individuals. I recently had the opportunity to interview him, and I have to say that, getting to talk to him about not only his own music and experiences, but his opinions of hip hop, and life in general, were beyond enlightening. We covered topics from how he defines himself in the rap game, to issues he has with the mainstream versus underground debate, to how he and Alchemist moved passed their falling out. He also tells me a secret you’ll never get to hear. …but you should read the interview anyway. Enjoy.
So, for people who aren’t from a first, second, or third world country, and somehow don’t know – who are you, where are you from, and what do you do? …but not necessarily in that order.
I’m born and raised in LA. I’m a first generation – my Momma’s from Lousiana, my Daddy’s from Arkansas. I’m an LA nigga. At all times. I’m a Watts baby and a C Arson nigga. …and my name is Ras Kass.
…and what do you do?
I write. Apparently.
Apparently I write.
You spill drinks on people. That’s what you do.
Is that what I do? I do. Thank you. Thank you so much. You learn something better about yourself every day. I have a better inference about who I am now.
Tell me where someone could find what you would want them to hear first if they hadn’t yet started fucking with you.
I would say the one thing that tends to resonate is Nature of the Threat. For one reason or another, it continues debate, opinion. Some people hate me for it, some people love me for it. But I’ve met so many more people that love me for it, white people, that say, “Man, you’ve helped me learn, and challenge what the system tried to tell me”. …and these are facts. Then in college you learn that I just said facts. So I would say Nature of the Threat is a basic thread. Everything else is more opinion. Even that was a thesis, but it’s still based on fact. It’s not ego. Like, rap is based on ego, gravitas, machismo, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah, whatever. I would say Nature of the Threat is – it’s not the best song I ever wrote, but it is the most historically – I’m just doing history. So if you take history classes in college, then it challenges you to relegate that, and put that in the perception of what is not true.
Cause I know history teachers that said, “You’re right, but you shouldn’t know that.” It’s accurate. I would say, to the best of my knowledge, I tried to do it one hundred percent. I think I messed up on about one percent of it. Literally, it’s accurate, ninety nine percent. So I would say, start from there – but that’s not who I am. I’m a human being. That’s just one aspect of who I am as a person.
How do you define yourself?
How do I define myself? I’m a very conflicted person. I’ve always been of two minds. Descartes, the duality of man. I’ve a higher self, a lower self. Maybe that’s the Satan and the God thing. I don’t know, I’m very conflicted. I’m a totally conflicted as a human being. I don’t even know if human beings should be able to hold these things (tape recorder) and have these conversations if you really want the truth. No, to be honest with you. I think there is something good in being good. I don’t know if good wins, but I have to believe that good wins because I don’t think evil should win. I don’t think the negative side of nature should win.
What are your biggest frustrations around being an artist, being a rapper?
The rapper shit, I understand it. My confliction would probably be about being an artist, because I don’t think American Blacks get the opportunity to be artistic. I think we have to get put in boxes, and we become what is successful. So, I would like to be an artist. I’ve always just been an artist.
What has been your evolutionary process as an artist?
Success. …that’s all it was.
Just learning from each point?
Failure and success. That’s all it’s ever been.
Do you feel like, in comparison to your peers, that you are where you should be? …or where you think you should be?
Of course not. You know that.
Talk to me about that.
No, I’m not going to talk about it. Simple answer. No, of course not.
Yeah, really. Why do you not feel like you’re not in a place of someone else?
I don’t make the same money as my peers.
But why do you feel like you don’t?
I got purposely fucked over. It’s fine, but I’m a man, so I’m not going to cry about it.
I get that. But the reason I ask is because I feel like there are a lot of exceptionally talented people who are not in the same place as people who are not as talented.
Okay. Well, that’s life.
It’s not for me to cry about it.
Okay. I’ll cry for you…
No. I’m a real nigga. I’m a man. I win. I shall achieve. So, everybody, for the most part, that are successful, they got a nigga on their team that says, “Rassy that nigga.” My reputation precedes me. I was taught by great people, how to be a strong nigga. I may not be great. I may be good. I may be talented. I have to learn how to evolve, adapt, and to conquer, but there are certain things that I won’t do to have success. …and I’m not interested in it. If that’s what makes them successful, for whatever it is – I don’t kiss ass.
I don’t make beef and hug. I don’t. I don’t. Because I don’t make beef. If I got beef, then I live with beef. I’m not a pussy. I’m just going to be the best version of me that I can be, learning from some of the greatest MCs and greatest real niggas that didn’t rap, hoodsters, gang bangers, bloods, Latinos, whatever, from New York, to motherfucking LA, to the Bay, to even Detroit. Niggas taught me how to be a real – no, we mirrored each other. I was taught from Louisiana and Arkansas and LA how to be a real nigga, but I saw mirrors. New York, Detroit, Miami, Oakland, Frisco – just the whole Bay period. There’s real niggas everywhere. I done met real niggas – Texas, whatever. I just want to mirror and try to be a real nigga. A real nigga knows how to carry power. I don’t know about the rest of these – I don’t know about niggas that ain’t built like where I’m from, but I ain’t got no hate for them. I just ain’t got no love for them. That’s all.
What does 2014 hold for you?
This DICK! …keep that one.
Can we add something else though?
So, we don’t get to talk about any of the stuff that you have on deck then?
Oh, you can ask me about it.
So what do I have for 2014? 2014, our goal is – we did a couple of projects. What I would hope to see first is the Apollo Brown album. So me and Apollo Brown have an album that is called “HTKG.” So we’re working on that, really blessed. It’s coming out amazing. What I would think would come after that is going to be Oxymorons. Unless we change the name, but me and Jack Splash – shout out Jack Splash, incredible producer, Grammy winning, incredible producer. Shout out Miami. So me and Jack Splash group – and then what I’d really like to do is drop my Ras Kass album, but we’ll see what happens. So I would hope to have three albums this year. Two groups that are very creative, there’s also me and Mr. Long from Black Sheep, we’re doing something and that might come out, at least some concept of it – I think I might do like a group thing, or at least like a creative embodiment of what I’ve been working on. I’m kind of creating this new persona that’s called “The Now.” So I just want to be “The Now,” because everybody just keeps talking about ‘hot’. ‘Hot’ was the wackest thing that ever made it into rap.
‘Hot’ don’t mean it’s good, it just means everybody likes it.
Right. I don’t need to be relevant. I just want to be now. I’ve always been here. I’m here now, so I’m “The Now”. So I’m probably going to term whatever I do and create this thing called “The Now.” I’m “The Now”. Which gives me an ability to be a little more creative, so it’s not Ras Kass, and I get to be “The Now”. So I can do straight electro record, everything I like doing, all the things we do. I guess it’s always a branding concept, but I want to just fucking be who I am. So, maybe, I think what we’re going to do right now, the songs that you heard, it’s going to be called “The Now.” I mean, some thing’s called “The Game”, and the so and so, whatever. Fuck it. I’m “The Now”. That means I never go out of style, it’s always “The Now”.
Who is your fan base as you see it, now?
Who is my fan base? The same people. My fan base is pretty consistent. Really smart kids that went to college, and really smart kids that went to prison. I have a very simplistic fan base. Very extreme. Always been.
Do you want to expand?
Are you really asking me that?
Some people don’t.
Of course I want to.
Some people do not. Trust me. I’ve gotten that answer before.
Of course I do. I think I want to be myself, which means that I would like for those extremities to meet each other. They wouldn’t even realize how much they have in common. That those very educated people don’t know what they have, with a person that never had an opportunity except for making a mistake and getting subjected to shit, that they could fucking end up meeting and being the best of friends. And all the people in the middle are the assholes. No, that’s the truth. They’re pieces of shit. They’re opinionated. They’re racist. They’re classist. They’re whatever. I run that gamut because for whatever reason I was born under my ingredients. This is what it is. Of course, because I want all of the middle, because the middle makes the money. The middle is ridiculous. They’re stupider than that one or that one. …and that’s my opinion.
The overly educated, fucking rich leftists, and the horribly mean, fucking prison kid are closer to the same people. There’s no equilibrium in between it. There’s no balance and those people need to meet because then you could have a meeting of the minds and it would probably make a better world. The right – you can’t fix certain people that hate you because of your skin. That no matter how – you can be mixed with this, they just hate you because they want the world to be within their own image. Can’t fix them. The rest of us, we still have a divide. Totally.
It seems like everyone considers themselves to be a rapper. How does that make you feel?
It’s okay. I have no problem with it.
Do you want to expand on that?
I need to you to expand on that question.
You don’t have a problem with the people who have not put the work in labeling themselves something that they may or may not actually be?
Okay. To expand on that, a long time ago before me there was rap and then it evolved into hip hop. …and then during my process, as I was born on this planet, it evolved into lyricists and spitters. So, I understand that my grandmother can rap. That doesn’t make her a lyricists or a spitter. Everybody can rap. Anybody can rap. I think KRS-One was the best one to kind of explain that. At the same time, people are becoming CEO’s and moguls, whatever. People will always use terminology to define what they’re trying to be, in a box that maybe they are not qualified to be in, because maybe you have to let them do that because that’s a noun. I’m an adjective. …and that’s the difference.
What are your thoughts on mainstream versus underground?
I don’t believe that really exists, except for the fact that when black people – no, not black people. Hip hop, because hip hop was not solely made by black people. When hip hop as a community defines itself, we change the boxes. I grew up when Q-Tip said, “rap is not pop, if you call it that, then stop”. I can actually define when that definition changed, Jay-Z said it. Loving what Jay-Z said, loving what Q-Tip said, A Tribe Called Quest was successful. They were gold artists, but gold was respectable. You didn’t have to be MC Hammer. You didn’t have to sell five million, or diamond, just be good and be successful because at that time you could get rewarded by being honest. Things have changed. We can’t live by the same rules. Things always evolve. Jay sold five and kind of made fucked up rules. I’d say it to his face. Jay changed the rules and then said the same things, and then – but he said dope shit. Hard Knock Life. I’m punishing the label for what they did to the Cold Crush, or whatever. Just because you sell a lot of records, doesn’t qualify you as being dope. Jay was dope. A Tribe Called Quest was dope. Now you got wack niggas being qualified by a rule that should have never been set up.
So, hip hop has not learned how to police itself. It has no respect for itself. It destroys, like, literally, generations of hip hop, in my philosophy, they literally – generations are 20 years. Gen – the term. Hip hop? Seven years. The motherfuckers are all grown and they act like they never knew you. Because there is these new kids, and we’re changing and evolving. We’re in a digital age. The only thing is we made these – talking slick is one thing as a MC, but creating a belief system, hip hop has a responsibility, not only to little black kids, or little Asian kids, but to little white kids and everybody. Not only to little American kids, but little Jamaican kids and little Australian kids, to teach them that this is a human journey – music. What we can do is make it the best it can be, or, we can create, what I thought rock ‘n’ roll was as a kid. Something where I think, “Oh, it’s the devil”, and they just bite heads off things. For real. We can destroy it or we can elevate it. I hope for the elevation. It changed my life, and I have to say that.
Some of it, I’m not that impressed by. I’m not a hater. Of course, it’s going to evolve. There’s going to be some truth and some negativity in anything. That’s in a family, that’s in brother’s and sister’s, that’s in a human being. With hip hop, there’s an opportunity – it’s a thing that changed my life personally, so that’s why I find it so valid. It changed my family’s life, just from me making a decision. My hope is that I can be a part of the success part, and a positive change. Yeah, I want all the success and all that, but I’ve been a part of it. I’ve helped some of the greatest MCs, and some of the greatest MCs have stole my lyrics. I’m not going to sit here and lie. I would hope that I get the win.
It’s a journey of incredible people, and now it’s not just New York, or not just New York and LA, or not just New York and Atlanta. Not just New York, Atlanta, and Detroit. This is the world, and there’s so many talented kids. We have yet to see the best MC. We have yet. Some kid might be from motherfucking Yugoslavia man. Kid that’s a student of the game, and he’d burn me. …and that’s the truth. I can’t wait cause hip hop changed his life, because hip hop changed my life. It’s actually changed politics. At its best, hip hop is the evolution of culture. At its worst, it’s just another way for people to promote how to be a fucking moron.
What’s popular, meaning, what’s a trend in hip hop right now that you can’t subscribe to? Or that you don’t subscribe to?
Really? What kind of question is that?
What do you mean, what kind of question is that?
I don’t know. As we’re recording this, I spilled water on my…
You are such a weirdo. Like people can see what you’re doing.
I’m making sure it’s recorded.
Making sure it’s accurate.
I don’t subscribe to being anything that you’re not. I subscribe to being who you are. I’ve always subscribed to honesty. So most of what I’m hearing in rap is not honesty. You’re just saying what people want to hear, but you’re not being who you are. People have to start being accountable. I like being a 90’s baby, in the sense that, there was accountability in rap, and you had to be who you said you were. That’s what I don’t like about rap. I don’t like people that try to fucking act like it’s 1988 and they say they underground hip hop, and they’re just a fucking stereotype of an era that maybe they didn’t really live, or give a fuck about rap, but that’s the part they like. Just be who you are. I don’t like hipsters. I don’t like old school people that wear fucking break dance suits and break dance – I don’t like none of that shit. I think it’s all corny.
Truth be told, I would just rather people to just be yourself. Be who you are. You can be a corporate person. Hip hop changed all of our lives. I know lawyers who can be a lawyer and still be like, “I love Rakim”, and be like, “Rakim’s my favorite”. An Armenian Kid or Jewish girl. You don’t have to dress a certain way to be what we love. I just hate the fact that hip hop lost it’s fluidity. Maybe that’s the word. Hip hop was fluid. It was indefinable. You just knew hip hop when you met hip hop. It didn’t dress like hip hop. It didn’t dress like rap. It didn’t dress like southern rap. It was just hip hop. Now we’re in these boxes and I don’t want to be in a box. I just want to be myself. So that’s my biggest fear, and that’s my biggest unlove of what’s happened.
How did you and Alchemist work things out?
I wrote him a long letter…
What did it say? Did you draw hearts over your “i’s”? “Dear Alchemist…”
I was like, “XXOO…Alan.”
Did you sign it, “With Love, Rassy”?
Al’s always been my nigga, so – it was very real at the time. He owned up eventually, and we made peace, and we moved passed it. He owned up. Trust me, between us, it would be great to have everybody there, like Jada, and Al, and me. I don’t want to talk or negate nobody. He owned up. I know what my math says, but it’s so fucking distant. He owned up to it. We don’t care about that shit no more.
Inquiring minds, you know. …you have anything you want to say about Game?
Okay. That’s why I asked.
Yeah. Not really.
There was a built in, no answer there.
Not really. I don’t promote – he was a stripper.
You know what.
I mean, no – a male stripper. That’s it. I’m going to keep it going. At least I’m not lying.
Okay. So, I’m done with that. I’m not afraid of telling the truth.
I know you’re not.
Okay. That’s it.
Is there a question that you’ve always wanted to be asked during an interview that you haven’t yet been?
A question I’ve never been asked? What makes you think how you think? That is the best question of Ras Kass. Why are you Ras Kass? Not why is your name your name. I am the process of the journey of everything I’ve ever been through, and that’s why I react how I react, and that’s why I write what I write. I’m the process of every Detroit, LA, Filipino, Black, White, Mexican, Jewish, Gentile – I am the process of the journey. All I do is spit out what I fucking process. …and that’s why I act like myself. That’s the best question ever made. That’s what we all are. People are morons, and I wait for people to fucking figure out how to be better people. That’s the real Ras Kass shit. This is what my friends tell me. I’m an arrogant asshole, and I think highly of myself, and I think I’m smarter than you. …and I am totally smarter than you.
You, meaning me?
I was going to say. …cause we can go.
No I’m talking about the listeners. I was not talking about you.
We could have beef. We can do that.
I’m not trying to beef with you.
That’s the thing, I write from an arrogant standpoint, is the point. I’m willing to go out here and engage the world and not close myself off and do the things that are comfortable for me. I try to be a man of the people, whether I’m up or down, I will go engage, because my grandmother taught me to be that kind of human being. Like, whether you got a dollar, or a million dollars, be who you are. So I will go engage, and that’s why I write. So, Ras Kass is really my writer, and then John Richard Austin is my researcher, and is my government – a white mans’ name. My father’s name. That’s how he was created. He was designed a certain way, cause John just goes to jail and does whatever he does. Then Ras Kass tries to process the information.
Tell me a secret.
I just told you one.
I don’t really have too many secrets. I have no idea. I really don’t.
(Note: A secret was revealed, but cannot be disclosed here. Sorry!)
That was the most random thing. If I really thought about some shit, then yeah, there’s probably something. I have no idea.
Thank you, move on.
What do you want people to know about you, like end of the day, bottom line, what do you want to be their impression?
I‘m the God of rap. So I have to prove that. So my journey, I have to prove, from 15 years old to the 37 year old man, that before it’s all said and done, I win. I’m better and they will bow. That’s what I want people to know. That people’s negativity can’t stop you, it can only slow you down and you can always accomplish your dreams, no matter what it is. I want to prove that – believe in yourself, believe in the people that love you. Some people will try to negate you. It’s not racism, it’s just some people are not here for you, they are here cause they hate you and they want to hurt you for no good reason, but you can win and you can change the world and you can do your part. My part is not to be so and so. My part is to be me.
I’m from the city of Lost Angels. That’s what Los Angeles is. There’s a reason for all this stuff too. We’re here for a reason. I’m a first generation Lost Angel. That doesn’t mean I have to create more Lost Angels. So John’s doing his part. Do your part – be amazing. Change the world. We can change the world. The devil ain’t got to win. Negative ain’t got to win. Not that I really subscribe to the devil, but negative doesn’t have to win. Good can win and I’m here for the fight. I’m fighting for the good people. That’s my story.
If you’re here, reading this interview, I’m going to go ahead and take a wild stab in the dark and say you have a favorite MC. Now, there might be a lot of things to contribute to this person being, in your eyes, the best – they could be a lyrical beast, consistent, have unique style, they might be super original, different than the rest, have an ear for beats, a wild freestyler, etc. Now, if you’re smart, you know that there can only be one, and for my money, that one is Black Thought, MC of the LEGENDARY Roots Crew. This man has been creating the lyrics that make you want to be an MC for 20+ years now, and you would be hard pressed to find someone more thoughtful, lyrical, consistent, creative, original, and emotive. It’s been my dream for as long as I’ve been doing listening to hip hop, and wanting to know more about it, to interview him. Especially given that he doesn’t particularly like interviews, thus does them quite rarely. Well fuck what you heard – dreams do come true, because this is mine. In this interview we cover topics spanning the complicated dynamic of The Roots, Thought’s solo grind, the late, GREAT, J Dilla, and so much more. I know this is a rather lengthy interview, but I promise it is worth every minute you can spare. Enjoy. This. Shit.
Not that there is anyone out there who doesn’t know, but, you know, tell us anyway. …who are you, where are you from, and tell us a little about what you do, if you would.
I’m Black Thought – from The Roots, from Philadelphia. …and I am a founding member of The Roots, and long time front man. I’m definitely the most elusive member of the band as well. I’m the front man in the studio and on stage, but not in the public eye. I’m not known for doing press or walking the red carpet all crazy. That’s what I do. I do that – we’re the band for The Tonight Show starring Jimmy Fallon, I do that, and also act a little bit.
You’re frequently labeled the most underrated/under appreciated rapper of all time – why? …and as you see it, is that a positive or negative label?
I don’t know why that is, and, I don’t really know what that is – you know what I’m saying? I don’t know. If anyone, or anything, is frequently labeled the most underrated whatever the fuck it is, then I guess it’s not underrated. I don’t know that there’s any one of my peers, or – when I say my peers I mean people who do the same thing, who are of the same age, like kind of, from the same graduating class. I don’t think there’s anyone from that group, or from any of the classes that have come since then, newer, younger dudes, that doesn’t recognize me as a force to be reckoned with. So, I don’t know. I’m not underrated, shit. I guess, like I said, I’m more understated than underrated, I guess. I like it that way.
Yeah. I still get to live a life, without people going crazy, and not giving me my privacy and shit like that.
What’re you doing right now? …outside of The Roots.
I’m always recording. You know? Side stuff. I’m always recording solo material. So, I’m doing that. I’m always recording with – kind of the same MCs that are featured on The Roots records, we just, we do different material, and we call that the Money Making Jam Boys. I’m always doing shit with them. My acting stuff. In the past – since November, I completed two major motion pictures that I’m kind of excited about. One is coming out, maybe 2015, it’s called Stealing Cars, and the other one is coming out in August. It’s called Get On Up, it’s a James Brown biopic. So, I really enjoy doing that. I enjoy any opportunity to create art in a different medium than my everyday job, which has become being a musician. It’s not that I don’t enjoy making music, but I just don’t enjoy it as much all the time. You know what I’m saying? But I really enjoy acting. So that’s been something I immerse myself in, when time permits. I also have a nonprofit organization, it‘s called the Grass Roots Community Foundation, and we focus on creating a world where at risk, school aged girls grow into healthy women. We just celebrated our fourth anniversary over this past weekend.
Yeah. I do shit like that. This is all stuff I do outside The Roots. I keep busy, I suppose.
Speaking of keeping busy – you’ve got an epically full plate, with Fallon, touring, making music, etc. What’s your biggest focus now, career wise? …and is it what you want it to be?
My biggest focus career wise is, you know, maintenance, or sustainability I guess. You know, we just celebrated the 20th anniversary of the release of – what people consider our second album, which was really our first major release, which is called Do You Want More. We celebrated that records 20th anniversary a couple weeks ago. So, that being said, there aren’t very many people who – in black music or otherwise, but particularly in black music, that have been around and been relevant for as long as The Roots have. So, my focus is just kind of maintaining that presence, and maintaining that relevance, while at the same time doing this prime time television day job kind of thing. Which is, you know, a challenge to say the least.
What’s your opinion of – you can call it black music, you can focus specifically on hip hop, however you want to tailor that.
I mean, hip hop, black music, I feel like they’re both – I mean hip hop. I don’t know. Hip hop as I know it is long gone. Is dead. You know? It’s been dead. …and black music is kind of going down that same road. The only thing that kind of still exists is niche artists – people who have created their own lane. You know, totally independent of whatever the current trends are. People who are kind of known for a thing – whatever their thing is, that they do, and they continue to do it. That’s kind of where we fall in. I mean, I don’t know – I don’t feel like there’s much of a scene beyond that. I mean, there’s definitely no sense of community, or – you know what I’m saying? Like any of that. Like the way it used to be in hip hop.
Let’s talk about the progression of The Roots. In your mind, where did you come from, where are you now, and where are you going?
Where The Roots started was, you know, the streets. The streets of Philadelphia, rapping some good ass raps, out on the streets – you know what I’m saying? Yeah. I’ve been around – I mean, I’ve been MCing forever, since I was about 9 years old. I’ve been doing – I think I did my first show, first talent show or whatever, around the age of 10. I think that sounds about right, so, this has been my life – I’ve always been an MC. Had I never become one professionally or successfully, I probably would still have been – this would still be my life. I grew up, and got my bearings, as the young culture of hip hop was doing the same. So, I definitely am hip hop, or, I am what hip hop was.
What we’ve become, is, I don’t know – we’ve managed, somehow, I guess with smoke and mirrors, to become America’s favorite band. You know? Without having to necessarily compromise very much of our integrity, very much of our – what it is that we want to do, or our creativity. All that, and somehow remain, pretty much intact. Yeah, we’ve been doing it for 20 years.
What the future holds? Like, where we’re headed? I mean, who knows. Like, right now, in 4 or 5 days, we’re embarking on a new journey in prime time television, and as much as I would like to think, or I wish I could believe, or some other people might want to believe, or might be under the misconception that what’s taking place is The Late Night Show is moving to a different time slot, that isn’t the case. It’s a totally different thing, moving into The Tonight Show, and the change in the time we’ll air every night. That’s kind of where we’re headed. We’re headed into that – deeper into the depths of Middle America. Deeper into the psyche of that demographic of The Tonight Show, which is definitely different than the demo of Late Night. So, there’s that and – it just presents a challenge. Do you feel comfortable enough to fall back, and rest upon that? Like, okay. We do this TV gig, and that’s it? That’s what we’ve amounted to? No, not at all. Do I feel like I’m done, or mission completed kind of thing? No, not at all. …which is why I’m under the gun as we speak to complete this new album.
I feel like a – we have as much, if not more, at stake now, 5 years later, than we did in February/March of 2009 when were going into the whole Late Night Show. I think the fact that, we were, you know, still a super credible band and still able to tour the world and sell tickets, and move a little bit of units, we put out a record, it was fresher in people’s minds. It was less of a nostalgic memory than it is now. I feel like now we’re getting to point where, some people, what they know us from, is our TV gig. You know what I’m saying? So it’s more import for us to establish that, you know – who we are as musicians, and who I am as a vocalist and an MC. All that. You know what I’m saying? So something balances out the ultra sweetness of this NBC gig. If that makes any sense, shit. It’s like the same challenge, but because it’s been 5 years, and because during that 5 years – I mean, we’ve done, we’ve put out a couple of Grammy nominated albums. A few. We’ve won some awards. We’ve gotten some accolades. But, I feel like you’re only as good as whatever that last thing that you put out, or wrote, or recorded, was, and at this point, it’s been two years. Or, if this record comes out when we project that it will, it will have been 2 years past since the last official Roots album. Not taking into consideration collaborations, or, you know, like, other efforts, where people call upon us to bring something into the picture for their project. So, you know, we’ve got a lot riding on this and I feel like it kind of has to happen now in order to be as effective as it has the potential to be. You know what I’m saying? We really need to ride this wave of interest in the band because of The Tonight Show. …and this, there’s also a little added interest in the promotion of the band that we might be able to get because our record label, Def Jam, this is their 30th anniversary. So, you know, they’re looking for something. A project to champion – and we want to give them that opportunity, and we can’t really do that if the record isn’t done. So, that’s where I’m at with it.
Tell me a little bit about the new record.
In short, the new record is being called And Then You Shoot Your Cousin. It’s like a satirical examination of some of the character types that we see, that are most prevalent, in black culture, I guess. Actually, more – it’s a satirical examination of the dysfunctional – some of the dysfunctional character types that we see in the hip hop genre. Something like that. It’s called And Then You Shoot Your Cousin, and it’s a dense journey that spans very many years. It transcends the origin of African America, up until modern day.
When do you hope that’s going to come out?
I think it’s going to come out in May. Something like that.
What’s the group dynamic within the legendary roots crew?
You mean like in the studio? Or on the stage? Or on TV? There’s kind of 3 different incarnations of The Roots that you deal with. On TV there’s – The Roots consists of two keyboard players, a bass player, a guitar guy, a saxophone, trumpet, a sousaphone, and a percussionist and a drummer. …and me, the vocalist.
In the studio The Roots is kind of like, like a different group of musicians. Some other keyboardists, who also work with us sometimes on stage, just not mostly on the Fallon show – but then on stage, yet another incarnation. You always have a – it’s kind of hard to explain the dynamic, but you always have the foundation of The Roots, which is my voice and Questlove’s drums. Depending on what’s needed sonically, we bring in some other musicians sometimes.But the constant, as far as people who are out there and consider themselves members of the band The Roots, there are about 10 of us, right now. Maybe 12 if I consider – take into consideration the 2 horns that are members of The Dap Kings who are now part of our band, moving forward, into The Tonight Show. They’ve only done like 2 test shows with us, but, the saxophone guy and the trumpet guy are both members of Antibalas and The Dap Kings and from Fela! The Musical. They’re from that camp.
…and the recording dynamic?
Well we don’t really record together per se, you know. My manager, Richard Nichols, who also executive produces a lot of The Roots stuff, he works with Greg P.O.R.N., who’s an MC who’s always featured on Roots albums, and Dice Raw, Karl Dice Jenkins, who is just pretty much my writing partner, the three of them collaborate often on music that will become The Roots music before it’s officially Roots music. They’ll collaborate, as far as what their ideas are, for beats that may or may not work, and Dice will start coming up with choruses, and he’ll try and come up with a verse of his own, and P.O.R.N. usually comes up with one of the first verses out of our crew that I hear on any of our records. For all intensive purposes, they’re kind of like the – they’re the recording nucleus of The Roots. If we need to outsource a producer, or a musician, to get something right sonically, they’re kind of able to do that before Questlove and I have to approve everything or really come into the picture. Like I said, it’s an ongoing thing – whereas I’ve been working on this album – there’s some stuff that I recorded 6-8 months ago. Some beats that I’ve been listening to, a couple of different arrangements that I’ve been taking under consideration for the past year and a half or so. But, these – Rich Nichols, Dice Raw, Greg P.O.R.N., they’ve been actually working on this album for 3 years. It’s just weird. It’s a weird, dysfunctional – we’re like dysfunction junction. …but it works out in the end, kind of thing.
You and Questlove seem like polar opposites. …is that why things between you two have worked for so long?
It very well may be. Like, it’s possible. That might be the reason why it’s worked for so long. Yeah, our personalities are just polar opposites. You know? I have – I deal a lot with – I tend to surround myself with a tight circle of friends and/or family, and, that’s kind of how I move. I don’t really, you know, I don’t really make too many new friends. But the people who are my friends have been around almost as long as The Roots has been around, you know? I hang out with, either my blood relatives or my people that I’ve known since high school, type shit. You know? We definitely ride for one another. Amir, he doesn’t have that, and he’s not really interested in having that, so, he kind of prides himself on the work being his friend. You know what I mean? Him really, truly being married to his job, and married to the music, you know? My friends are my friends and my marriage is my marriage. I kind of compartmentalize all of that shit, and try and do both – do it all. I’m well aware that there’s a huge amount of sacrifice that comes into play when you want to be as well known as a Questlove. You know what I’m saying? I’m just not willing to make all of that sacrifice, you know – to be well known.
So I’m good with the fame, I’m good with the stardom, and all that. I hate taking pictures, I hate being out in public, I don’t like being around new people. …and I mean, neither does Questlove really. But, he’s just willing to do it because it’s necessary in order for him to continue, and to, I guess, move further along this road of, whatever this road is that he’s moving along. You know what I’m saying? In 2013 he was Time’s ‘Coolest Dude’. Questlove. …and that’s not something I would wish upon myself, you know? It’s really weird, the dynamic, you know what I’m saying? Our – the fact that we’re just totally different types of people, and run with totally different groups of people, and – once we were successful enough to have different – separate tour buses, we toured, pretty much, with totally different groups of people. We would see each other at the venue, maybe checking into the hotel sometimes, but, that’s pretty much it. We kind of stay out of each other’s way. There’s definitely a – we love each other like brothers. We’ve been together since 1987 doing this same shit, so.
Looking back, if you could have done something differently with regards to your music career, what would you change?
Looking back, I mean, there have been a few points at which, in my career, I have been really close to putting out this music that kind of represents my own ideas. Like, you know, Black Thought solo material. Not me with another group. Not me collaborating with this DJ, or me and this producer putting out this thing that we’re calling it, this thing – you know what I’m saying? If I had my whole career to do over again, I would definitely put some of that shit out. I mean, right now, I have to do – I have to take into consideration the greater good. …and what we all have on the line, in the name of this brand that we call The Roots. So, The Roots is kind of first and foremost, and it continues to be so. Like, yo, there’s a really good song that me and one of The Roots keyboardists – a producer named Ray Angry, and my man Raheem DeVaughn, that we came up with about this time last year. It was going to be for a record called “The Talented Mr. Trotter”, and, you know, today, that song is a record on The Roots album And Then You Shoot Your Cousin. …and I don’t feel no kind of way about that shit. It’s like, to me, they’re interchangeable, but it means something different to the people when you say, “this is The Roots” “this is not The Roots” “this is Black Thought” “this is Jam Boys” “this is Tariq Trotter” – you know what I mean? When they have a definitive separation of church and state, I guess it’s easier for them to digest. It’s all the same shit to me. It’s my music – it’s feeding my kids, it’s paying my mortgage.
You have a line, “keep the singing man sane for the paying fans”. …talk to me.
What that means is what we’ve been talking about this whole interview – you know. I think what came before that was a reference to Def Jam and that was very much representative of where we were in our relationship when we were – during the recording process of that particular record. I mean, it’s a everyday struggle. The singing man is me, and the other guys that I work with. It’s a thin line between genius and insanity, so, you know, it’s kind of the whole idea of the show must go on. But at what cost? You know what I’m saying? So hopefully, in a perfect world, the show goes on, and continues at as little of an emotional and spiritual cost to the artist as is possible. So that’s what that shit means.
Who’re you listening to right now?
I don’t really listen to – especially like, when I’m working on a record, I listen to a lot of, in repetition, whatever it is I’m trying to write to. You know, like, morning, noon, and night – every waking moment kind of thing. When I was in Japan and Australia, towards the end of the year, I was listening to a lot of, you know, I call it “turn up” music. I was listening to Rich Homie Quan and Migos. I was fucking with Audio Push. I try, like when I have time, I try and take in whatever is current – what’s poppin’, what cats are doing musically, but it’s not necessarily a trend that I try to follow. You know what I’m saying? I’m not going to jump on the bandwagon, but at the same time, I want to know – not even necessarily what the competition is, but, just what all the other pieces of the mosaic that people are calling contemporary music – the music of today, that my shit is going to be out there being taken into consideration alongside.
What’s your creative process?
The creative process is different for every creation, I suppose. Our last couple records have progressively become more conceptual – you know what I mean? …and this record is heavily conceptual, even though I kind of explained it in a vague, all encompassing kind of way. The record is really about something super specific, and the executive producer, Rich Nichols, he definitely has a specific vision, but – sometimes he’s almost too articulate to articulate it. Like, you know what I’m saying? He’s so well read and so smart, sometimes it’s hard for him to convey what the actual idea is. Like, it’s hard for him to turn that apple into applesauce, so that we can digest it, and then go and work. So, there’s a certain amount of frustration that comes along with trying to find that – like trying to synchronize the shit. Then once you hit a stride, it’s just all about creating these characters that seem real.
My life, right now, I’m coming from Whole Foods, I stopped at the pet store, my family was at the White House all morning, they’re driving back now from DC, that shit – you know, I work on The Tonight Show. It’s not, you know – I could rap about that, but it’s not necessarily what I think people want to hear. So, we create these characters the same way you would create if you were a – if it was a screenplay, or these were characters in a film. Sometimes, like when you’re doing a film – when you’re creating a character in a film, you have to create a whole back story, even if that back story isn’t going to be part of the film. You’ve got to just convince yourself of its existence just so it feels real and true coming from you. In order to make it real you can’t just make the shit up, so, the process is a whole lot of just soul searching and going through – taking trips down memory lane. Recalling past conversations and relationships, and trying to see who you can base these characters off of. Is it going to be one person? Is it going to be traits of 2 or 3 people together? You know what I’m saying? So there’s that. …and then once you get the dialogue, or an idea for some dialogue, it’s about – it’s the whole submission process, as we were – kind of like the same way that a journalist would. You submit shit to your editor, they edit it, and give it back to you, and tell you, you know, okay, these are my notes.
So that’s kind of what we do in The Roots recording process. For me, I’ve usually been – since I am like the front man for the group, and it’s my voice that kind of represents The Roots, in the past I’ve been that dude that, I could submit shit and be pretty confident that it’s going to be accepted from the gate. You know there aren’t going be that many notes from the editor, so to speak. But this record in particular, some of the stuff that I submitted earlier on was accepted right away. But stuff that I’ve submitted since then, more recently, has just been missing the mark. It might have something to do with, from the top – since January 1st I haven’t been smoking or drinking, and I think sometimes just getting buzzed is where a lot of that shit just comes from. Just being able to relax and not really deal with the stress that I deal with when I’m just totally lucid. So it’s been a challenge. I’ve just, over this past weekend, I’ve kind of hit the stride and I’m at the place that I need to be at, finally. You know I have about a week left before I need to be done with all my shit, so that we can finish mixing and mastering, so, I’m kind of on it, right now.
What brought about the change?
At the top of the year, this is my 3rd year that, at the top of the year I have just decided to go from January to June living really clean, just because of how hard I go normally. So, that kind of works for me. I go from January to June trying to work out and not eat any bullshit, you know – drink a lot of water, and read more. The whole reinvention that takes place – some people call it a cleanse, I mean, I don’t know, it’s just a thing that I go through for half of the year, to prepare me for the second half of the year. We got festivals all summer, we got touring in Europe, birthdays, and holidays, and all sorts of this that you just want to celebrate. So, I’m able to do that because I go hard with the discipline for the first 6 months of the year, you know?
At this point, having being in this game for such a long time, what do you love about it? …and what do you not love about it?
At this point – I mean I don’t know what I love about it. I don’t know. Like, I don’t know. It’s just hard to say. I need – maybe I need to take some time to think about the shit, I can tell you later on, but I don’t know the answer to either of those. Like, what do I love about it or what I don’t love about it. It just – it is what it is, you know? I don’t judge it – you know what I’m saying? I accept it for what it is and I try to find my place and maneuver within that. You know what I’m saying? Get in where I fit in.
Tell me a story about Dilla.
I mean, J Dilla was just – he was like the coolest producer, you know? I mean – and his coolness was not contrived. He was just really like, that dude. He was a musical genius, and he was eccentric in the way that a genius is. But, he was also just amazing. You know? He was a great mind, and I imagine – like, I met Dilla at the legendary Battery Studios back in the day, I think through Q-tip. That’s where A Tribe Called Quest used to record and mix their material, and, you know, a bunch of artists that The Roots looked up to, so that’s, you know, for our first couple records, we sought out those same people, you know what I mean? Your Bob Powers – you know, we wanted to work at Battery Studios. So, when I met Dilla, I imagine it must have been what it felt like for, you know, Hughes to meet Du Bois or some shit. …you know what I’m saying? You kind of just realized that, you know, when you’re in the presence of greatness kind of thing. Or, you know, the presence of potential greatness.
So, I mean, I knew that he was going to be that dude from the first time I met him. The first time I listened to his production, I knew that he was bringing a different sort of sensibility then that which was currently prevalent in hip hop. You know what I mean? So, that being said, yeah – Dilla was just one of my favorite producers. I would go at the top of each year – like, he would put out a new batch of beats that rappers could select from, for him to kind of build upon, and cats could buy these beats to use for their albums. He would do it at the top of the year, sometime between December and January of every year I would go out to Detroit and just, you know, stay in a hotel – like I would sleep in the hotel, but we would really just live in the studio. Sometimes in an actual recording studio, sometimes in Dilla’s mom’s basement, or wherever he was working at the moment. Whatever space he was working in at the moment, and we would just create.
I remember one year we were out there, it was Christmas, no, wait, we were out there from maybe the day after Christmas til New Years, and it was me, it was Common, it was Pete Rock, it was – you know, Questlove was with me. I think Erykah Badu came through at some point. It was just everyone that was an artist and considered themselves close to Dilla, were kind of, around, like during this week or so. It was just really good times man, you know what I’m saying? Baatin was still alive. Proof was around, Proof was still alive. You know, all of these Detroit icons, know what I’m saying? May they rest in POWER, were still with us, and they were all on deck during this time. It was just a beautiful thing, man, hanging out with – these are people that I love. …and it’s not like I got new people that I love now, because they’re gone, you know what I’m saying? It was just crazy – like a crazy energy, man. Just creating, during that time. That’s when he – Dilla came up with the loop that we used for that song Dynamite!.
It was also a bunch of freestyle shit that we would do, and one of the things we did on this New Years Eve was, we just got super drunk, I think Dilla had – somebody had given Jay Dee some champagne flutes, that were like Gucci champagne flutes. So, you know, we had to bless the champagne flutes with the champagne. So every day we would just go buy mad bottles of the Moet and Alize, mix it together, and drink out of these like, fucking, you know, glasses that were fit for a king. …and then create. So, on this particular New Years Eve, I was super smashed. We were beyond smashed, because it was New Years Eve, so, we went into this freestyle over some loop that Questlove and Pete Rock and Dilla were kind of fucking with, and I did this rap that didn’t have any words. Like, I somehow thought to end – you know, like I would do like a bar and a half of, just like scatting kind of gibberish, and then I would like, rhyme the last two or three words. Like, that’s when I would actually say words and shit. I don’t know what I was thinking, or what made me do that shit, but, it’s just a super funny – just a good ass memory of interacting with all those cats that I don’t get to see as often anymore. Stuff like that.
It was another New Years Eve that we did a show – it was The Roots, and Busta Rhymes, and Common, and we were in Chicago, and Jay Dee and all those dudes drove out from Detroit, and we partied in Chicago. You know, like big dogs do. I can’t really speak too much on what took place, but, we would have a lot of fun.
We would have a lot of fun, man, and, yeah – Karriem Riggins, you know, Houseshoes, all those dudes would be around, would be on deck. The whole Detroit scene has a special place in my heart just because of those years, you know what I’m saying?
Why do you dislike interviews so much?
I’ve often been misquoted, you know? Misrepresented sometimes. But beyond that, I don’t know – it’s talking about a bunch of personal shit to someone you don’t know that well. You know what I mean? It’s just weird. I mean, it’s some people, some journalists, that I know well. Your Dream Hampton’s, or, you know, Toure, Harry Allen, like, you know, I could easily interview with them because I – they’ve kind of been there with me throughout a lot of the shit that we’re even going to talk about, you know what I’m saying? They’ve been around for years, so, in my eyes, journalists, definitely like the three people I just named, are as much family as some of the musicians that I work with. But, you know, just to meet some new person who swears they know some shit – ask you about your whole, your life, and then judge it, pass judgment on that shit, and then write it up with little snide remarks included, I just don’t be feeling it. I don’t feel like its necessary – it’s not something that I need at this point in my career. I haven’t done interviews for this long, I don’t necessarily need to start doing that shit now. You want an interview about The Roots, you want someone to wax poetic, talk to Questlove, shit.
What’s something you’ve always wanted to be asked in an interview but never have been?
Man, there is nothing that I’ve always wanted to be asked in an interview. Like, NOTHING.
You’re no fun.
I know, I’m aware of that though. …hopefully I’m not going to get a bad grade on my report card because of it. When it comes to this shit? I’m not much fun. But just, in life, I’m fun as fuck! I’m funny, I’m fun, you know? But I don’t know that it translates. Especially with how heavy a lot of the music is that we put out, and how heavy a lot of the roles that I play theatrically are – that I have played up until this point theatrically, are. You know what I’m saying? So, if there’s anything that I kind of would want people to know, it’s that I do have a little bit of a range of emotion. …and that I’m not always as serious as I come off. I’ve definitely been able to showcase some of that range on The Late Night Show, but it’s been to an extreme, so then I’ve got to reel in back in, and balance that shit out with the real again. It’s hard. It’s a little dance you’ve got to do.
Tell me a secret.
You heard me.
Everything I’ve told you thus far is a secret. Like, fuck you mean? Like, I don’t know. Other secrets – like, secret secrets remain secrets and shit. I ain’t a snitch. I don’t have secrets just to have them. You know what I’m saying? So it’s a bunch of shit that I’m taking to the grave, but, beyond that, everything that we’ve kind of discussed has been private, personal shit for me.
I will accept that.
What do you want people to know about Black Thought?
I want people to know that I’m a real dude, you know what I’m saying? I’m not one of those people who – I evolve, but I never change. As far as like the whole, “you’re the best rapper”, “do you realize how talented you are?”, “why are you so underrated?” – I do, I realize how talented I am, you know what I’m saying? I’m dope. I like what I do better than what very many other artists try to do. But in that, I don’t feel underrated, like I said. I want people to know, I don’t feel underrated. I feel like, whatever’s my just due – whatever is my recognition, beyond what you already see me blessed with, any other blessings that I’m supposed to get, it gets greater later. Like, I feel like all that shit is – has yet to come. …and if it’s meant to be, then it shall be. As far as being the dopest rapper, everybody knows that shit. I don’t give a fuck. Everybody knows that. All I’ve really cared about, from the gate, is that all the people that I respected, like the MCs that made me want to MC, would accept my – accept me as one of their own and embrace my craft. …and that’s happened. Like, across the board. There’s no one, from old school dudes like Rakim and Slick Rick and Chuck D and Big Daddy Kane and G Rap to new dudes, like the A$AP Mob, and fucking Joey Bada$$. There’s no one that doesn’t give me the respect that I feel like I deserve. So, that’s it. There is nothing more that I could ask for.
I recently had the distinct pleasure of interviewing Jamla Squad member, North Carolina repper, all around dope beat maker, Khrysis. We dove into topics such as the recent tracks and projects he’s dropped with the likes of Pete Rock, Phonte, Elzhi, Talib Kweli, and many more, how he feels about the fact that pretty much everyone calls themselves a producer now a days, and he even takes me to school, on, well, Macklemore. Check this shit out. Enjoy!
In case anyone reading this doesn’t know, which seems silly, but whatever, tell us who you are, where you’re from, and a little about what you do.
My name is name is Khrysis, I’m from North Carolina, representing Jamla Records and the Soul Council. I’m a producer, engineer, and, you know, a little bit of MCing on the side.
…again, for those who might not have started to fuck with you yet, tell us where we might have heard you or where we could find you if we were looking.
You might have heard me with Little Brother, you might have heard me with Sean Price, you might have heard me with Jean Grae, you might have heard me with Mac Miller, and just recently, did a project with Add-2, my label mate, Add-2 – Between Heaven and Hell, available now, go get it. …and of course, lot’s of work back in the day with Justus League, and currently lots of work with Jamla.
What do you feel is your biggest strength as a producer? …weakness?
As a producer I feel like, you know, chopping records is my strength – I love chopping records, and nobody is going to be able to hear what I hear in these records, and to me, that’s a strength. My weakness is probably – it’s like anybody else’s weakness really, sometimes, you know, you get caught up in your own little world, or you might get a little ahead of yourself, you might get in the way of yourself sometimes. It’s nothing that can’t be worked on. Nothing that can’t be fixed. Nobody’s perfect – you know what I’m saying? But, you know, that’s just me.
Who are the producers that inspire you the most – both classics and newer cats?
Well of course the classics are your DJ Premier’s, your Pete Rock’s, Large Professor, Erick Sermon, The RZA. I’m a big J Dilla head – I guess for me that would be in between the classic and current because, to me, I feel like he passed before he could really get into gear the way he should have. However, he does have enough time between now and the records that’s he’s done to be considered classics, so. Currently – Alchemist, Nottz, my peers, the Soul Council, they inspire the shit out of me. Let’s see – there’s a few others, DJ Khalil, Focus…, Jake (One), Marco (Polo), !llmind, Kev Brown, Oddisee – there’s more. There’s more – if there’s anyone I forgot, blame the mind, not the heart.
So, you relatively recently dropped a lot of new shit. …a lot of new, hot shit. Tell me about it, and tell me what’s next.
The last three projects that you probably heard out of Jamla are She Got Game by Rapsody, hosted by DJ Drama, Add-2 and Khrysis – Between Heaven and Hell, and most recently Jamla Is The Squad, which is the label compilation. We just put out the record with Phonte, Elzhi, and Talib Kweli. We just also just dropped a record with my label mate GQ and Heather Victoria, and a record with Pete Rock, Lecrae and Rapsody. Those records are out right now and they are available on the Jamla Is The Squad compilation. (Which can be purchased HERE)
What’s been your favorite project thus far?
It might be something that ain’t even out yet. We’ll start with what’s out – we got my baby, Between Heaven and Hell, that’s my baby right there. Another one of my babies – I actually have the Pro Tools session up for it right now, I was actually going through it just now, is a compilation project I’ve been working on for the past three or four years. It’s called The Hour of Khrysis, that’s on the way. …and then I’m also working on a project with Oh No, called OKMD.
Who’s an MC that you’d literally disown a family member to work with?
I don’t know – I love my family too much.
C’mon. …give me somebody.
I don’t have any family members I’d disown.
Fine. Who is someone you REALLY want to work with?
Busta Rhymes. I really do want to work with Busta Rhymes. That’s my favorite MC, so, yeah.
How do you measure your success?
You know what, I got a lot of – what makes me happy. I measure it by what makes me happy, you know what I’m saying? It’s not monetary. For me, it’s not monetary at all, or a popularity thing, or a status thing. It’s like, something that I wanted to accomplish. When I accomplish what I wanted to accomplish, that’s when I feel successful. When I’m happy about it and I’m proud about the work that I’ve done, you know? Then I call that successful. That’s what I call successful.
What’s 2014 looking like?
As of right now, more work with Jamla, cause you know, that’s priority over everything to be honest with you. More beats, and more raps out of me. It’ll definitely be, you know – I should be wrapping up with compilation pretty soon, so. So that’s the big thing that I’m working on right now, wrapping up this compilation that I got here.
Who’re you listening to right now?
At this very moment? I just picked up the Step Brothers album. That’s a dope project. I listen to a lot of old school music. A lot of 70’s old school jams. I’ll admit I listen to a lot of – it’s like a mixture between 90’s R&B, 70’s soul, 80’s New Jack Swing, and 70’s soft rock.
It’s random as hell, but these are the things that get me going. They jog my creative juices!
You know what I’m saying? It’s hip hop in there. …it’s just not as much as it used to be when I was a kid, you know? Maybe, you know – 20 year old Khrysis is different than 30 year old Khrysis.
What’s it like being a producer at a time when so many people consider themselves a producer?
Wow. It’s a double edged sword because everybody’s got to start somewhere, you know? Everybody’s got to start somewhere. There was a point and time where somebody would have considered me somebody who’s just on the internet claiming to be producer. It’s probably someone who still does, you know? But, I know what I’ve done, and I know what separates me from the rest. I know, you know – you can tell how to separate who from who, you know? Being the fact that everything is so accessible now, you know, it kind of really doesn’t – at the end of the day it really doesn’t matter as long as you have your lane, and your fan base available to you. As long as you have fans, and clientele to reach out to, then you have a market. So, you know – but the most important thing I guess, pertaining to the question, is that everyone starts somewhere. It’s (the internet) is a perfect breeding ground to get your music out there to the world. …and they’ll let you know. They’ll let you know if it’s wack, if it’s not, they’ll let you know.
What is your biggest pet peeve as a producer? …what makes you cringe? What do you not respect?
I wouldn’t say not respect, but sometimes what makes me cringe is bad mixing. But that’s some nerdy shit for me, you know what I’m saying? Or, you know, just bad mixing really. I’m able to catch little mixing errors, but that’s just me and my nerdiness. Sometimes I can bypass it, sometimes I can’t. …and sometimes I have to look at it like, this song isn’t for me, but I would – this song has a market and is something that could sell, so therefore I can respect it, you know? Some songs you enjoy, some songs you respect.
What’s something you’ve always wanted to be asked in an interview?
Ha! You know, I’ve never thought of that.
Nah, for real. I can’t even think of it – you’re putting me on the spot, I can’t even think of it at the moment.
I’m supposed to put you on the spot. …you’re in an interview. As you see it, what’s your place in hip hop?
My place in hip hop? Somebody who really – I’m definitely somebody who stands for what they believe in, and I believe in not fixing something that’s not broken. If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it – I’m one of those guys, you know? I’m trying to give people what they’ve been missing, you know what I’m saying? Especially for people who might not have access to the internet and things of that nature, you know? I’m trying to be that real hip hop dude that’s on the internet and off the internet at the same time. That, you know, music nerds can respect it – you know, music nerds can enjoy it and respect it, and, I guess, your casual listener can enjoy as well, you know?
Do you compare yourself to any other producer/s? …why or why not?
Nah, because I feel like I am my own producer at the end of the day, you know?
How’re you making a name for yourself?
…just making sure I have consistent work. Making sure that my brand is consistently out there as much as possible in the world and in the ears of the consumers.
What do you love about hip hop, and what do you hate about it?
What I love about hip hop is just that it makes me feel good, it makes me feel happy, you know, it makes me – it really can reflect and harness whatever mood I’m in. I guess what I hate about hip hop is how it gets misinterpreted, and how things that are not hip hop get called hip hop.
Give me an example.
Records that are – when you have pop records that get called hip hop records, you know? I won’t name no names, but I’m pretty sure…
I’m not saying any names! Again. …here’s the thing about Macklemore, Macklemore knows where he comes from. He’s – we’re talking about a guy here, who, soccer moms love his shit, right? You know what I’m saying? You’ll have a crowd of people who don’t know shit about hip hop, but love him, and what does he turn around and do? Fucking, he turns around and has Big Krit and Talib Kweli open up for his show. So he introduced Kweli and Krit to an audience that probably wouldn’t think twice about looking at them in the first place.
…that’s an excellent point.
So how can you consider that to not be hip hop?
To me? That’s pretty hip hop, to me. One of the purposes of hip hop is to inform, and educate, and entertain at the same time. You’re getting your information, you’re getting your education, and you’re getting your entertainment all at once, so… What’s not hip hop about that?
Fine. …tell me a secret.
Tell you a secret?
Make it good.
I’m a fake dog whisperer.
…you’re a fake dog whisperer?
For real yo – dogs do what I say when I tell them to do it.
I’m so done with you right now.
What do you want the world to know about Khrysis?
That, you know, the music was dope, and he was consistent, and you know.
…don’t say it like you’re gone, shit!
I know right? I was straight talking in third person too, like Jay Z. But nah, you know, I just to be known as one of the greater producers. I’ll let the people determine – it’s not up to me to decide really. So I’ll let the people determine what it is. Just know that I’m out here, and I ain’t stopping til the stopping is stopped.
Makes perfect sense.
You should know who the Artifacts are – Brick City hip hop contributors that, well, if you don’t know, you could use the internet to find out about, which, according to El Da Sensei, who I ran into at Rhyme Fest Los Angeles, is one of the things he loves most about hip hop. I’ll let him explain. Enjoy.
…and if you don’t know, now you know.
Speaking of legends – I ran into Sadat X, Brand Nubian MC and all around hip hop icon, at Rhyme Fest Los Angeles. He shared with me what he loves, and more than dislikes, about hip hop. …the man makes a VERY good point. Check yourselves. Enjoy.
So there is this girl, right, and her name is Tanya Morgan, right, and she is like – wait, what? No. Tanya Morgan isn’t a girl. Tanya Morgan is the brainchild of a couple very talented dudes, one of which I recently had the opportunity to interview, and he goes by the name Von Pea. In this interview he delves into such topics as what he doesn’t love so much about hip hop and the music industry in general (and even though he worries he might sound bitter, he doesn’t, he just sounds like a man with a legitimate bone to pick), what’s up next for Tanya Morgan, and why he’s more inspired than influenced by other musicians. Enjoy!
So – if it’s possible, for people who apparently don’t, you know, listen to music, and somehow don’t know, tell me who you are, where you’re from, and a little about what you do.
Von Pea. I’m from Brooklyn NY. Donwill is from Cincinatti Ohio, and we are the two artists that make up a group called Tanya Morgan. I would say we’re both creative people that got known for this instance of our creativity, which is hip hop. Our sound lineage is Native Tongue but for those that really know, their sound wasn’t one thing and ours isn’t either once you dig into it.
For someone who might be reading this but really hasn’t started to fuck with you yet, give me a brief break down of where we might have heard you before – albums, collabs, etc.
Various Little Brother related joints “Von Sees” from Foreign Exchange, “A Word From Our Sponsors” from the LB/Mick Boogie mixtape, “Streets of Music” from 9th Wonder “The Wonder Years” album, there are some Drake bootlegs out there from when we worked together in 2007. For the record we didn’t leak those, but I know some more mainstream fans have heard of us from there. We have that “Cuddle Bums” track with 88 Keys that’s a classic joint. I guess other people know “Morgan Blu” but to be honest if they don’t know that stuff already they might as well get with the new shit because we don’t sound like back then anymore anyways.
How do you define yourself? …by that I mean, whatever you take from it.
Responsible. I always try to be realistic in my music and give what really happened as a conclusion in a timeline. I lied and said enough outlandish shit when I was rapping in high school then that wasn’t fun anymore. I can be held accountable for 99.9% of my lyrics…the full truth may get stretched a little at times but that’s because I say things for my friends who don’t rap too.
My favorite rapper of all time is probably Black Thought, who, as you know, is forever dubbed the most underrated rapper of all time. I kind of feel like you guys have a similar reputation – in that you’re criminally underrated. Do you agree with that? Talk to me about it.
Sometimes I agree, and sometimes I say ‘hey maybe we just don’t have the crazy back story’ or whatever. When you’re about your music in a time that isn’t just about the music, then you’re not gonna keep everyone’s attention. That only works for a while if you’re new, or if you stay mysterious. We’re not brand new or mysterious. At this point I think more about making better music than I have before…that’s my #1 focus beyond anything. After a while it’s just going to be impossible to deny. I really feel like we’re still in KMD mode and you didn’t even get DOOM yet.
So, you went from three to two. …if you want to talk about that, feel free. But I’m more interested in how the two of you keep continuity? Everyone is an artist, and sensitive about their shit – how do you make it work? How will you keep it working, long term?
All 3 of us are just friends that do music and went into business with each other. I care more about remaining cool with these guys than anything business related and the music is there as well as the support of solo shit. I think Wu Tang is so Ill because they all have their own careers and they support each other, and even when its a conflict it looks like brothers mad at each other for a while. We always hung out on some friend shit more than we made music together and that’s how it keeps working.
Let’s talk about Rubber Souls. It had so a great feel all the way through. The production was so, I don’t know how to express it beyond saying, optimistic. It sounded, well, happy, even though I feel like the content was to be taken seriously, which is hard to do. Was it what you thought it would be? Did it accomplish what you wanted it to accomplish?
I can look at Rubber Souls as super slept on because I watched it as a fan more than working on it as an accomplice. I went into it like I was a part…almost like Snoop would go and be apart of a Dre album. Its my album too but I’m watching 6th Sense and following his lead. The music on there is crazy. I feel like a lot of our other stuff can be seen as an acquired taste but Id play some of those Rubber Souls joints for anybody in the world with confidence. Its more universal, and that’s why its disappointing that more people haven’t given it a chance. We weren’t trying to change, we were out to be broader than usual. I say everyone should go listen to it today and really listen.
How’ve you evolved from Sunset or Moonlighting til now, Rubber Souls?
My girl had her music on shuffle the other day and “So Sweet” came on. I cringed through the whole song. I understand that in MY mind we’re way better than that, but for other people there are intangibles there, or memories, so that’s always going to be their favorite shit. Moonlighting still sounds dope to me as well as Brooklynati, but I’m hard on myself. That’s what actually makes my parts on Rubber Souls hard to listen to, because I couldn’t go back and keep changing lines or delivery 100 times like I usually do. I love that its all in the moment on RS though. That album is a big accomplishment and I’m proud of it.
What’s next for Tanya Morgan?
Donwill has an EP called Don Speaks coming before the summer and we have our new album “You Get What You Pay For” coming out by the Fall. It’s kind of a mixture of all of our albums…the title doesn’t mean exactly what people think it means though. That will be explained later. I have another solo later too and Don does too that I’ll be doing some production on, but right now its focus on finishing his EP and the new group LP.
Who else influenced you? To start, and currently.
Anyone can Google me and those influences will pop up. …currently I’m more inspired by people than influenced. What I mean is, I admire people’s presentation, but I try not to be influenced anymore because I want to have my own style. I admire how Beyonce just did it, but on a smaller scale, Dom Kennedy dropped OGDK out of nowhere, if I’m not mistaken, and that was fly to me then too. I see things that Kanye does as fearless. I was inspired by all of the songs that DIDN’T end up on Good Kid Maad City, because that showed me how you can still drop these songs you want to drop around an album, but they don’t have to be forced/shoehorned into the album. Sometimes dope shit just doesn’t fit the album, and realizing it can still come out without being on there was something that didn’t make sense to me til then. I like how Donald Glover used all of his talents to promote Because The Internet in a creative way.
Who are you listening to now?
Obsessing over yet to be released TM/solo music as usual. Audio Push, Jamla, Childish Gambino, Step Brothers (Alchemist & Evidence), Roc Marciano, Schoolboy Q, and I pulled out some old shit.
How do you feel about the internet age of hip hop? What’s it like being an artist, in this day and age where everyone thinks they’re a rapper and/or producer?
I think everyone thinks they are a celebrity, or minutes away from becoming one on the internet now. That’s more of an issue than everyone doing music – to me anyway. I think everyone should do something creative and you never know, the illest beat ever might come from some stay at home mom playing around on garage band.
What’s your biggest pet peeve about the music industry?
I probably sound bitter and shit in this interview – but I don’t like that it’s usually not about music and more about celebrity. We’ve all saw someone that was just aight, but looked a certain way, and had a certain personality, and said, “oh they about to blow”. I like when they’re actually dope too, but that doesn’t always happen. Don’t get me wrong though, you can be talented and boring. I’ve absolutely made skillful shit that was boring.
What’s something you’ve always wanted to be asked in an interview?
Where they can listen to the new album before buying it? Please stream us on Spotify or wherever you stream music, and if you like it, please come see us on the road, or cop something from the tanyamorgan.bandcamp, or wherever you buy music.
What do you love about hip hop? Hate about it?
There’s a lot to love, but I hate that some of the street shit gets thrown under the hip hop umbrella. The Pac/Big deaths was street shit, they didn’t die while rapping. R&B singers get called rappers when they get arrested and that’s bullshit – that has nothing to do with hip hop. I don’t like when people do lazy shit and say “that’s hip hop!” Nah, you just didn’t hone your skills. I don’t like how certain rappers won’t be considered a part of hip hop because of their skill level or perceived intelligence level. There’s good shit and bad shit, but it’s all a part of hip hop to me. If only good rappers are MCs then who are the “wack MCs” we keep rapping about? Sometimes, as fans, we all get too snobby. Either that, or we do the ironic thing where we ONLY listen to “ignorant” shit. I love the expression of art from us poor kids though. At the base that’s what it is for me, the kids that didn’t have much, but made a way, through their own ways of art and sound collages. It’s that forever for me.
Tell me a secret.
I’d love to, but then it wouldn’t be a secret anymore.
What do you want people to know about this weird girl named Tanya Morgan? …but no, really.
I’ve answered this before and I always feel weird about my answer for some reason. As if the answer is too wide-eyed most of the time: “I want them to know we gave it our best!”
I just want people to really listen and not just skim with their arms folded like we’re trying out for space in their iTunes. Really listen to it, and break down what’s being said, what’s between the lines, the beats, all that. Then you’ll know everything you need to know, and you’ll want to know more!