Archive for January, 2009

Sharing Mp3s in Twitter

While Evolving Music and MixMatchMusic have been Twitter devotees for several months now (check out why one of our writers thinks that musicians should jump on the Twitter bandwagon), I’ve only recently picked up the site. And I’ll be honest, if I hadn’t seen the iPhone app Gavroche has been rocking, I probably never would have. I put up an account several months ago, but the idea of just text messages coming in, or needing to look at a browser window seemed ridiculous to me. I’m not sitting at home checking my computer to see what other people are up to. But when Gavroche introduced me to Tweetie where you can post automatically, get a nice streamlined list of responses and other peoples’ status messages, I was intrigued. When he showed me how easy it was to post photos to the site from the phone, I was sold. And now, with even more features, I’m beginning to feel like Twitter culture is slowly infiltrating everything (and now to see if they can come up with a workable business model to actually stay in business.)

But up until now, the shortened URLs, the pictures, the @replies… these are fun things that have kept me busy, but haven’t yet broken into the main area of interest that I have… namely, big shocker here, music. So when I read about Songly, I was of course intrigued. The service allows you to use ANY URL that is hosting an Mp3 and post it as a Tweet. Here’s the kicker though… it doesn’t just shorten the URL and make it tweetable… it wraps it up in a flash player so anyone can listen.

To try out Songly, click here, and to read my first tweet attempt at such a thing, click here. I’ve used the new Souls of Mischief song, “Tour Stories” (click here for Souls of Mischief interview.) And for those of you rocking FireFox, Songly has an integrated tool for it. Talk about musical connectivity. A fantastic way to share music that will surely evolve with Twitter, forming the future of content sharing. Only drawback? Since the player they use is Flash, your iPhone friends won’t be able to listen until they get to a computer.

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What I’m Hearing, Vol. 9

To see the last version of What I’m Hearing, click here.

While most of this update came from the last few months of 2008, I’m sure a lot of stuff here will be new to some people. But don’t worry, we’ve got some 2009 gems as well, despite the fact that we’re only a month in. If the January update is any indication, it’ll be a fantastic year for music. January’s new iPod music included 70 songs.

Au Revoir Simone, The Bird of Music: Using muted synths, drum machines and various melodic instruments, Au Revoir Simone fashions singer/songwriter tendencies with electro and pop sensibilities on this 2007 release. On some tracks this comes out in a restrained style, the melody gently picked out with bell chimes and a light keyboard as the backdrop for the slow and melancholy voices of Erika Forster, Annie Hart and Heather D’Angelo. Yet on others, ARS delves further into the dancehall of the ‘80s with energetic rifts and go-go adolescent lyrics. The group manages to package their music as cute and gentle without allowing either to become overbearing and washing out the musical talent of it all. It would be very easy for future releases (and as of May ’08 they ARS says they’re working on one) to go too far in one of these directions, but on the majority of this album they’ve managed to find the balance that brings back the happiness and nostalgia of the ‘80s while infusing it with a shoe-gazing aura. Don’t Sleep On: “Dark Halls,” “Fallen Snow” and “Stars.”

Friendly Fires, Friendly Fires: If their 11 track self-titled September 2008 release is any indication, Friendly Fires of England could easily become the big Indie/Electro/80s/Pop/Alt Rock/Shoegaze group of 2009, not to mention the next big thing from across the pond. Their self-titled debut explores a variety of genres and musical eras while never losing energy. The bass and drum driven power of the tracks incorporates steely guitars and more than a fair share of video game tics and flourishes. At the same time, Fires isn’t afraid to mix in hints of disco from time to time, which only serves to vibrantly flesh out and harmonize with the rock aspect of their sound. At times, their use of high-pitched electronic melodies becomes haunting and beautiful without ever feeling out of place. While “Jump in the Pool” goes a little too far into Talking Heads’ “Moonrock” sound, others pull in Prince dance funk with “On Board.” But Friendly Fires is clearly at their best when they’re feeling the music. On “Skeleton Boy” as he belts out, “I close my eyes on the dancefloor/and forget about you,” it’s hard not to close your eyes and feel the same. Don’t Sleep On: “Skeleton Boy,” “Strobe,” and “White Diamonds.”

Her Space Holiday, XOXO, Panda and the New Kid Revival: It would be easy for anyone familiar with Her Space Holiday’s dreary and downtempo electronic glitch to pick up XOXO and wonder who they sold their name and branding rights to. For all purposes, XOXO is a complete break from previous HSH work. Here, Bianchi trades his laptop for an acoustic guitar, his bedroom whisper for a sunny sidewalk whistle and all the trappings of a closet case “manic expressive” for the airy feeling of a guy that can’t get enough sunshine. While his music may have previously seemed depressed, the absolute incongruity of this album with the rest of his discography brings the idea of bi-polar closer to the diagnosis. But these characteristics do not make the album bad, just different (unless of course you only like Her Space Holiday for the depression.) On several, the sing-along quality becomes contagious. So if you’re into the computer digital dirges of the previous work, you may not enjoy XOXO, but for those interested in following an artist and comparing his more somber works to something more upbeat, this album provides a case study in musical technique transition. Don’t Sleep On: “The Boys and Girls,” “The Year in Review” and “Sleepy Tigers.”

The Offspring, Rise and Fall, Rage and Grace: On their most recent album, The Offspring don’t show any new tricks. Of course, having been around for close to two decades, expecting any sort of musical growth here would be missing the point. The Offspring are who they are and who they have always been, and that’s breakneck pace punk/alternative rockers with hard melodies backing Dexter Holland’s unmistakable primal yell. And saying that they’re the same as they always have been isn’t necessarily a bad thing as the album produces some strong tracks that could have easily fit themselves onto Smash or Ixnay on the Hombre. Some tracks are a stretch here, like “Fix You” and “Kristy, Are You Doing OK?” that draws on simply too much sap for an Offspring track. Indeed, it almost sounds like an Offspring interpretation of Green Day’s “Time of Your Life,” and other punk turned singer/songwriter tracks showing up on Live 105 recently. This album probably won’t bring in any new Offspring fans, but for long-time fans, it will provide some decent and consistent new material. Don’t Sleep On: “A Lot Like Me,” “Let’s Hear It For Rock Bottom,” and “Hammerhead.”

The Tones, Dreamtalk: While the Bay Area is known for producing stellar Hip-Hop acts (see Zion-i, Hiero), lately it seems like the quality of out-put is slowing. The most recent Bay Area hip-hop album I heard was E-40’s new one, The Ball Street Journal, and while I certainly recognize the contributions he has made over the years, it has to be one of the most uninspirational pieces of rap garbage I’ve heard in the last year. I mean just the song “Water” is enough to make any fan of the genre think about throwing their speakers out of a moving car. But what 40 lacked in creativity for the Bay, The Tones have brought back around in one very solid 2009 release, Dreamtalk. Through 15 tracks, the duo consisting of Retro and Suhn easily spin soulful and heartfelt lyrics over jazzy and lushly filled out beats. The use of jazz components as well as old samples creates an atmosphere where The Tones rap and sing their way gracefully through songs that sound almost timeless, belonging to neither the 70s funk era nor the ’00s sound of Common and Kanye’s more mellow tracks. Regardless of how you want to describe them or who you want to compare them to, Dreamtalk is a very solid album all the way through and poised to be one of the best hip-hop debuts of the year. Don’t Sleep On: “The Movemeant,” “No More” and “Fly Angel.”

And for anyone looking for a nice mix of world music and a great selection of Kinks’ tracks, check out The Darjeeling Limited soundtrack.

Part 2: Opio and Tajai Interview (Souls of Mischief)

Opio and Tajai of Souls of Mischief/Hieroglyphics

Opio and Tajai (right) of Souls of Mischief/Hieroglyphics

For Part 1 of this interview, click here. In Part 2 of my interview with Opio and Tajai, we discussed Bay Area Hip-hop, fan remixes, greatest albums of all time and the life lessons taught by their genre.

ACtual: I think that the Bay Area has some of the best Hip-Hop. There’s always people coming out from the Bay, the Hiero crew, E-40, Nickatina, Zion-I, lot of good groups. What do you think it is about this area that you think produces such good Hip-Hop?

Tajai: We’ve got diverse backgrounds, the port, especially Oakland and San Francisco, we’re the coast. If you look at the array of blue vs. red states, you’ll see that the coasts, where they have more than one type of person, or more than two types of people are places that embrace new and fresh ideas. Beyond that, there’s nothing to do out here. This is the worst place to try to start your career once you’ve made your move, so people are just bored so they make stuff. I could see in LA or New York, you can dress like a rapper, and look like one and hit the clubs and get that whole like, “I’m in the scene” thing. There’s no scene here, so you have to really be who you say you with regards to music. You have to do things yourself to achieve it rather than just looking the part. In other places you could look the part and try to get over like, “you know me…” and try to get in the clubs free, there aren’t any clubs out here. Because the scene is so wack, people are more creative and because we have a diverse background. This isn’t just the place where hella dope Hip-Hop is from. This is the place where the Panthers are from, where the hippies are from, where you look at San Francisco and gay rights, we’re on some other shit out here, we’re on some next level shit.

Opio: We’re trying to have equality out here. So in other places, in order to distinguish yourself and make yourself be something special to make people respect you like, “You’re doing something good, cool!” We ain’t really about that out here. It’s more about everyone is on the same level, so when in the Bay Area people lift you up and say, “Your shit is dope” that’s saying something because they have to see you and hear you and see it for themselves and know it’s true. Cause if not, you’re not going to get it. You might get it if you’re coming from somewhere else because it takes a lot to get on the scene and get heard. But if you come up from the grass roots out here, people are always like, “You’re never gonna do it.” Not that people are negative in general, but we ain’t really starstruck out here. You don’t see a lot of Bentleys and Lamborghinis and all that, and I don’t think it’s cause people can’t have it.

T: There’s a lot of money here. Per capita we’re probably one of the more wealthy cities in America.

O: That’s just not our stilo out here. You’re gonna stand out and make people get mad at you like, “What are you doing all that for? What do you need a Bentley and Lamborghini and all that for?” There’s something wrong with that out here, almost inherently so. People like to see you shine but they want you to be humble, you have to be a real person out here in order to maintain. So I feel blessed that we’re able to get respected out here, in this city in particular, especially being from here in all the years that we’ve been here, it’s a good feeling when we go to the Art and Soul festival or something like that. It’s a community gathering and there’s people from everywhere, but we still get love just like people paid to come see us at a show.

AC: A lot of groups are letting fans remix their work, putting stems up on the internet, doing remix work. Can you see getting into that and letting your fans work with your music like that?

T: We’ve got a whole album of fan remixes out. It’s called Over Time. So we’ve been doing that. So we might do it on this next record where we might put our ProTools files up and let people who are really serious about pushing the envelope and taking our music to the next level, do it. Because why not? We put our take on it, let them put their take on it. It’s not going to make less of what we have done. Once you’ve created something, like a record, it stands the test of time. All of our singles, we put up a capella so people can remix it, that’s the whole point. We sell a capella, we put it up on the internet so people can remix it.

O: We let people remix a single from my album Stop the Press, put that out there. We like that sort of stuff. The whole inspiration for us being independent was the show aspect, the whole interactive style, even if it’s over the internet or whatever. We want to maintain that where people can interact with our music and do whatever they want to do with it, manipulate it, that’s cool to me. Because I think eventually something really dope could come out of that. I’ve heard some shit that’s pretty tight, but I mean like if someone is out there just looking for an opportunity to do something with it and they just need the right sound or whatever and we could be a part of that, that would be dope.

AC: What are the current projects you guys are working on?

T: We’ve got Vulture’s Wisdom Vol. 2, probably going to start off the next year. We’ve got a new album by Souls of Mischief, we haven’t figured out the title but it’s done, produced by Prince Paul. New Casual album, Pep Love’s album called The Reconstruction, Del’s coming out with the LED EP, I’ve got an EP called THC 7. Opio came up with this idea, we’re gonna smash fools. Every week in 2009 we’re going to come out with a new song. Not a new freestyle, not a new rap over somebody else’s beat, a new song every week. So we’ll have 52 new Hiero songs plus about 5 or 6 new albums in 2009.

AC: Are you going to put all of those on iTunes?

T: Yea, they’ll all be out digital.

AC: A song every week?

T: We’ve got so much music, why not put it out? There’s no point in hoarding it because what good is music doing in the vault? Music is made to play, it’s not like money.

O: One thing is that it’s for our fans. For the people that supported us, they’re always looking for us, like, “What’s up with you guys? You guys ain’t coming out with this that and the other,” and they always want to hear something new. We have music done, but we’ll think we have to save it or whatever. But at this point in time, the way things are, people just want to hear it, they can’t stand it anymore, we just feel like now’s the time to let people get an inside look at whatever we’re doing, right then and there. We’ve never been the type of cats to just record a song and slap it on the internet or put it out. Everything we ever did came out 2-3 years after it was done, literally, I’m not even joking. Anything you ever heard was a long time ago by the time it came out. So as artists it’s something we’ve always struggled with because we’re always like, “We got some shit that’s hot, we want it out right now,” and we just never really had that vehicle. I kinda feel like now’s the time. The internet is such a community where people come together. I go there myself to listen to new music, do my YouTube thing, peep out all the underground shit that you can’t hear on the radio or you don’t see on television or whatever. There’s a large community of people out there where if we could let people that love Hieroglyphics know that you come to this one place and listen to all of our music, it’s hear for you, I think it would do a lot to re-energize our fans that have been supporting us. We got it for them.

T: We’ve got fans that are so loyal that they’ve stuck with us for the past 15, really 17, 18 years. Del’s first record came out in ’91, so some people have literally been waiting a lifetime for a lot of this shit and it never comes out. Most records when they come out, they’re finished two years or a year before they hit the mainstream, and we’re independent, we can’t do that.

O: We want to give people that, like we said, try and keep it interactive. We want people to have the experience and share it with us, like, “This is a hot song, listen!” I love that, I’m excited as an artist. I mean, we’re all owners of the label and we always have to make smart business decisions in terms of how we release our music because that’s our thing, we gotta make sure it’s right, everything’s gotta be cool. That’s still the Hieroglyphics thing, we always want quality product, that’s why we ain’t just throwing a bunch of shit out there. This is real music that we’re giving to people. For me, I want to thank the people out there that have basically been sticking with us for all these years. I can really say, with all honesty that they’ve been waiting on certain things that they just haven’t been able to get. The music is there, they just aren’t able to be exposed to it, so we’re kinda changing our philosophy about that a little. We want to expose people to our music and give them an opportunity to come in. There’s so much of it that it’s almost a crime to not let people just hear it.

AC: What are you guys looking at in terms of target release dates for the Hiero album and the Souls album?

T: Souls, at the earliest April, the Hiero by the end of the year. Because downloading has basically destroyed the concept of the album, everything on your album can be a single now, there’s no album cut. So let’s drop a song every week so people can buy that single and pick up a Hiero song if they want a Hiero song, an Opio or Tajai song, Souls song whatever. The records will then come out for people who liked what they heard in the single format.

O: We always have albums available for people at our shows, and those albums obviously have bonus materials that you’re only able to get when you buy that specific thing. Just the way that it is right now, I don’t know if people really sit down and listen to an album in the same manner, actually I know they don’t. I’m just different in my philosophy of how I listen to records, and I look for certain things, but that’s not how it’s going forward at this particular moment. People ain’t necessarily throwing on a CD, sitting down and listening to the whole thing. They’re skipping through a bunch of songs, whatever whatever, oh that was kinda cool, and that’s about it. So this way you can sit back and enjoy these songs for a week or whatever, then get a new one.

AC: Favorite conversation in Hip-Hop: Greatest album of all time. Where do you two stand? A couple that stand out?

O: It Takes a Nation of Millions comes to mind, right off the top. AmeriKKKa’s Most Wanted, Ice Cube.

T: And even that is great because of It Takes a Nation

O: Low End Theory is almost perfection, The Chronic, 3 Feet High and Rising. 3 Feet High and Rising is different because there’s so much material on there, it’s like a carnival, I love that album, that album is crazy. Then there’s other albums for us, Funky Technician, Stunts, Blunts and Hip-Hop.

T: The Main Source first record.

O: CMW, Music to Driveby.

T: I’d say Nation of Millions.

O: There’s so many albums but the gold standard of all of that I would have to say is It Takes a Nation of Millions, cause that album –

T: Had everything.

O: Has all the elements, it was saying something as well. It was educating me on a lot of stuff as a young kid.

T: A lot of these records, that’s the one thing they’re probably missing is that educational content that damn near every album we mentioned did have, Main Source, The Funky Technician. I think a lot of rappers are OK just being rap.

O: It was about their mind power. All of those albums that we mentioned, it was all about what they brought to the table. They were mental giants. Now, that doesn’t even matter, you can be a straight mental molecule and as long as you have enough money and material –

T: Swagger.

O: It’s not even about swagger, because I give credit to swagger. Swagger everybody doesn’t have and everybody can’t get. Money is nothing, anyone can get that, it’s material things, you didn’t do anything by your own, there’s nothing that you created there. People will give a lot of credit, I’ve heard people say, “He’s wack, he sucks, but he’s got a lot of money and I respect that about that dude that he got his paper.” Who doesn’t want it? We all watch the TV shows, Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous, and we all want that, but to me, that’s not where Hip-Hop needs to be, Hip-Hop needs to be back to Takes a Nation of Millions level.

T: And it wasn’t like they were just un-positive. They were talking about all the shit that was hot in the streets, they had banging beats, they had scratches on their songs, it was connected in a way that you had to listen to from beginning to end, there aren’t any records like that any more. Fools don’t even take the time to craft albums anymore, they’re trying to craft songs.

AC: What has Hip-Hop taught you about life and what has life taught you to make you better at Hip-Hop?

O: The life experience of growing up here in the Bay Area, the diversity of thought that exists here, all the things we were exposed to, there’s so many levels that you have to understand and juggle at once. You have to be real perceptive out here to be good in your descriptions with words, but then you have to humble so when we went out, even though we had a lot of confidence in our skill and were ready to battle cats, we always paid respect and homage to all the cats who came before us. How Hip-Hop helped my life, artists like KRS-One, songs like “Why Is That?” that really helped me get a grasp on world history and these are large concepts that were coming from rap artists. Ways to live, knowledge of self, know your history, these kinds of things. There was a lot of misinformation that was going on and Hip-Hop was helping bring that to light. There is a lost past that doesn’t get talked about and this is something we need to be educated about, and that definitely influenced me in my life, through Hip-Hop, that was a vessel that helped me learn and get on the path to taking on those types of concepts. Also questioning the mainstream, like whatever I see on Fox News I’m not just going to take at face value and part of the reason I’m not going to do that and not be bamboozled or manipulated is because of Hip-Hop.

T: For me, Hip-Hop taught me about life that you have to complete what you started. Making songs, if you don’t think about it from beginning to end, it’s not going to be complete, so that’s probably the biggest lesson. That goes for business or whatever endeavor, you have to do it from beginning to end and if you don’t see it through to the end somebody else will. As far as what life taught me about Hip-Hop, it’s probably that it ain’t everything. I love Hip-Hop, it’s my favorite thing in the world, but it ain’t more important than my kid or taking a shit or something. You see what I’m saying? There are mundane things and other more important things that are more important than Hip-Hop, so you have to take it with a grain of salt. I love this, and I’ve given my life to this, but it’s not the only thing to live for.

Which Microphone Is Best for Field Use?

[Note: Duane is a new contributor to Evolving Music and a new member of the MixMatchMusic family. He co-founded Mix2r.fm and is Adobe’s Senior Technical Evangelist.]

I had a colleague at Adobe write to me today about Duanes World TV and ask the following:

“Hey Duane — Can you tell me the specs of the microphone you use for your videos. The shotgun mic on your camera, that is. Thanks”

This is a complicated question as every interview I have done has had distinctly different conditions. Sometimes wind, rain, background noise ruin the audio. Nevertheless, here is what I have used to date and what I think I will do in the future.

Duane’s World is shot with an HDTV Canon HV20. This is a very compact, yet full featured camera. The shotgun mic I used in Milan to capture my colleague at Adobe is a Rodes model N3594 VideoMic. While it is good, it picks up tons of background noise. For an example of the background noise problem, check out Duane’s World Episode 2 (forward to interviews ), and here for the wind problem.

As a fix, I started using a Beyer dynamics M58, which is a professional quality broadcast mic and really good for interviews. It has a long handle which allows you to control the interview better (when you move the mic back to you, it cuts the person off). The BBC uses these too since they have a long handle you can interview people a meter away. For the difference see this interview in a noisy environment. It is highly directional and picks up no background noise. The problem is it needs phantom XLR adapter (power) so you have to buy a phantom power provider like this to plug the mic into. This uses standard 9 volt batteries (same as the Rodes mic).

For voice overs in my studio, I use the Shure SM7B which is the ultimate studio mic. This uses XLR connectors too so you need a midi device to interface with your computer. I use the Toneport UX2 which has tons of preset vocal tones and plugs into USB. This can allow you to record to Live, Cubase, et al.

HOWEVER:

None of these are the best solution. The better solution for an all around, small portable and perfect mic is a wireless/wired with long cable lavalier mic. I would highly recommend going with the XLR phantom power adapter plus two wired lavalier mics. They work in all situations. So, this is the model I am buying. The problem is that you need one of these for every person so if you are interviewing 4 people, you need 4 mics. Since most of mine are two people interviews, I will use the two mics but record each on a separate channel so I can control the volume in the event the interviewee speaks with a lower voice.

I’ll update this blog post after I experiment with the lavaliers.

Originally Posted By Duane to Technoracle (a.k.a. “Duane’s World”)

Are Mommy Bloggers Into Music Tech?

Let’s take a moment to congratulate the two winners of our chicBuds Holiday Giveaway from last month, Jacqueline (read her chicBuds review here) and Michele (whose review is here). Enjoy your prizes ladies! And thanks to everyone else who participated in the contest.

chicbuds

Since Evolving Music typically focuses on topics like the schizophrenic music industry, emerging technology, social media, and artist reviews and interviews, it’s easy to make assumptions about our readership. Sure, anyone might stumble upon our blog and find a post that interests them, but you kind of picture the majority of the readers falling into certain categories like DIY musicians, other geeky music tech bloggers, people from the myspace generation…

As such, at first it was surprising to find that both our winners come from the mommy blogger demographic. Logically though it makes sense. They are everywhere! Mommy bloggers are fast becoming (if they haven’t already) one of the most influential groups online. Avid blog readers will recognize names like Dooce, queen bee of the mommy blogger tribes and one of the lucky few who actually makes a living doing it. With four million page views per month, you can easily picture the advertisers lining up with tongues all a drool. On the flip side, can you imagine the immense pressure of an audience that large? Millions of people hanging on your every written word? She is quite a lady.

With all their genuine commenting, link trading and sharing of emotions, mommy bloggers epitomize the power of social media. Naturally, this slice of society has tremendous influence when it comes to products and thus many mommy bloggers have become trusted sources for product reviews. “Marketers have just started to scratch the surface of this untapped medium,” according to Fahlgren. This phenomenon appears to be very much on the rise.

For those of us tooling about in music industry, the question is this: Are mommy bloggers into music tech? If they are, what kind of influence do they have in the space? And what does that mean for the other players in the field – the artists, the bloggers, the entrepreneurs, the fans, the record labels…? Should artists focus on recruiting and engaging fans in the mommy blogger demographic? Should music related companies target them as an audience for products and services?

Are there statistics out there that’ll tell us what these mommy blogger types are interested in? Because clearly it isn’t all discounts on diapers and parenting tips. Some of them are prolific writers with incredible pull in their circles of influence.

Part 1: Opio and Tajai Interview (Souls of Mischief)

Opio of Souls of Mischief

Opio of Souls of Mischief

Tajai of Souls of Mischief

Tajai of Souls of Mischief

Since the early 1990s, Oakland, California based Hip-Hop collective Hieroglyphics has taken on many shapes and sounds, from the lyrically complex and dense solo stylings of Del tha Funkee Homosapien to the rapid-fire and diverse delivery of Hieroglyphics to the smooth and masterful underground sound of Souls of Mischief. Spanning nearly two decades, Hiero and Souls of Mischief have brought new sounds and ideas to the industry while also providing a backbone of creativity that has helped influence the entire Bay Area music scene.

In November I had the opportunity to sit down with Tajai and Opio of Hiero and SOM, two members responsible for an incredible amount of solo and collaborative work for the HieroImperium. In part 1, we discussed their musical backgrounds, the formation of Hiero and the difficulty of staying relevant in a music industry that places an emphasis on the “next big thing.”

ACtual: Starting off early, what were both of your initial musical influences and inspirations, and when did you decide that rapping is what you wanted to do?

Opio: I used to be hella into Reggae, really. Yellowman is one of my favorites, obviously Bob Marley, Peter Tosh, they had the swagger that got me on rap. My parents were really into music, so through them I heard Earth, Wind and Fire, Parliament-Funkadelic, stuff like that. When I first really started to hear rap, I heard “Rapper’s Delight,” stuff like that, Grandmaster Flash. They used to play Rock and Roll stations out here, mixing, like college radio. Really the first time I heard “Rapper’s Delight,” I was just hooked to the way he was spittin’, it was cool, and it just evolved from there. All the older cats in my neighborhood were listening to them, breakdancing, graffiti and all of that was a part of it too. At the same time cats were breaking, graffiti artists, so it was that whole Hip-Hop culture, it wasn’t only just the rapping, I was breakdancing, all of that.

Tajai: Funk, I would say Funk was my biggest influence. Parliament, Bootsy, George Clinton, and then Too Short is probably the main reason I rap just because all the other rappers, I saw other people doing it, but I didn’t think that people from here could do it. As a kid, it was just my perception of it was something that other people did until I saw Too Short rapping and then I was like, “He’s from here and he raps.” That’s when I really started seriously rapping.

AC: You two as well as the Souls of Mischief crew met early on. Talk about how all of you met, came together and the creation of both Souls and Hieroglyphics.

T: We grew up in the same area, so I’ve known Casual and A-Plus since like Kindergarten, 1st grade. Del was at the same school as us, we just sort of all had a mutual interest in Hip-Hop, so once Del got on in ’91 he sort of brought us into the industry, but we had been rapping together for a long time before that. Casual went to junior high with Op.

O: The first time I went into the studio ever, me and Casual rented a studio in the 8th grade. Our man Terai came with us, he was in the 7th grade. I wasn’t even rapping then, I was a DJ, so I was DJing, scratching during that time. This is in the 7th/8th grade, me and Casual went to junior high and he already knew them. I would listen to their music when I was in junior high but I hadn’t really started to kick it with Tajai and A-Plus, but he would have tapes and be like, “listen to my partners.” I’d see them up the block and be like, “there goes Tajai right there.” We really started hanging out in high school, but the whole time we lived right around the same area. We all lived around the same block as each other but we weren’t really in communication until high school, and that’s when we really became a lot more serious about the rapping.

AC: You were released on Jive Records in 1993. Talk about the process of creating that album and what working for a major label was like. You were what, 17, 18 when that album came out?

O: Yea. That album to me was something, that, I would listen to songs that they had done when I was in junior high and me and Casual went into the studio, we were kinda serious about the whole rap thing. Tajai and A-Plus were working with Sir Jinks and they had a professional sound that inspired us to get on our business a little more. This is early on, so we had been working on our craft until we came out. We were probably 13, 14 really serious going to the studio.

That album, even though we recorded it in 2 weeks, it was something that was formulating for a lot of years. I really think it was highly influenced also by the whole crew aspect, not just the fact that we were Souls of Mischief, because we’re competitive by nature within Souls of Mischief, but then there was also Del and Casual, Pep Love, we had these other fierce MCs. Even during the time before ’93 til Infinity came out, everybody heard the demos, so we had something to live up to. People would hear the demos and be like, “the album will be wack, whatever,” and they heard other cats around us that were really shining, so it was a long time coming to me, that album getting done, even though it seemed like it popped out of nowhere, we had been working for some years.

AC: When Hiero formed, what was your original vision for the group and how did you go about making Third Eye Vision?

T: We’ve been together as a crew since before Del’s first record. Our vision then was let’s just all be the best we can be, get signed and be super stars. That’s different than how things progressed just dealing with major label politics, and the fact that, for someone to walk into Hip-Hop today, they have no idea that even when we came out it was still like a sub-culture. So being a super-star and blowing up meant selling a couple of thousand records, maybe going gold, but not platinum. The only people going platinum were guys like Vanilla Ice, MC Hammer.

So once we got off the majors, it was like let’s not stop making music just because we don’t have a label, let’s keep making music and then Domino was like, “Shoot, we might as well put this record out instead of trying to shop it, and from there we started Hiero Imperium and we’ve been rolling since then because it’s been, I’m not going to say easier logistically, but easier in regard to being able to be agile and creative. And now, almost 10, 11 years later, we’re really reaping the rewards of having laid that groundwork of being independent so long. Third Eye was something we recorded out of the need to make music, and then from there it built up to this independent label.

AC: With HieroImperium, you guys have been putting out albums and podcasts for a while now. What do you find to be the hardest part of being in this industry for as long as you guys have?

T: We’re not new, that’s the problem. To people who have never heard of us, which is not that many people, it’s like, “Wow these guys are fantastic!” But to people who have, it’s like, we come with something we feel is our best work and it’s like, “Ok, that’s dope.” There’s so much garbage out here that gets attention because it’s new, and that’s the frustrating part about it. If you’re consistent in music, that’s not good enough a lot of times, you have to have controversy or you have to fall real low to bring yourself back up, but we’ve been consistent and there’s so many of us, that that’s the biggest problem I see, we’re not new.

O: Also, over the years of doing it, touring, consistently going out and being on the road, not just only recording the albums, but the whole rap life in and of itself can take its toll. Sometimes people get jaded, but I think that luckily because there’s a lot of us, we’re able to keep ourselves focused and sharp. Without other people pushing you, and you’re hearing people recording songs and maintaining that creative energy and you don’t have it, your brother can lift you up a little bit and you hear some new shit, “oh man that’s dope,” it kinda gets your juices flowing. Maybe you’re at the house just bored, you wrote so many raps you’re through with it for a hot second, so it’s always a good thing to have other cats around you working and doing stuff. Casual, he’s always busy, Del is always in the lab working, A-Plus just consistent with the beats, so you can always go to those guys and be like, “What’s new?” just to get a little spark.

AC: In terms of approaching the writing, how would you say that your styles differ when you’re trying to come up with stuff for an individual album vs. working on a Souls project or working on a Hieroglyphics project, how do you approach each of those differently?

T: You’re competing against yourself when you’re making a solo record, so you get to look at things more holistically, you look at the entire project as a whole and where things fit in. Whereas when you’re in a group, you’re looking at how you fit into that particular song. With your own records I think it’s harder because you have to push yourself a little bit harder to be better than yourself, verse by verse and song by song. With a group album I think it’s easier because there’s so many other people you’re competing against that you have to come with your best work, that’s the main difference for me.

O: To me, I just feel more comfortable in the group element whether it’s Souls of Mischief or Hieroglyphics, I like the collaboration aspect of things and working with other cats, so to me that’s always been fun. I saw the challenge more so than doing music with others, trying to do something by myself like it’s a Herculean task cause you have so much more that you have to do. At the same time, once the process gets going, you kinda relax in your environment and it’s a good place to be because you can advance your style a little more. You get to go longer.

Especially in Souls of Mischief, we try to keep that quick jab approach so for me it’s kinda fun to just run my mouth for a little while. I’ve always been trying to explore more avant-garde styles whenever we’re doing songs with Souls of Mischief, so you can see the different elements that we bring to the table when you see our solo projects. You can see the different parts working. Sometimes it’s hard to tell what it’s like when you’re listening to the group all together then you get to hear the solo and be like, “So that’s how Souls of Mischief comes together,” at least for me because I’m a fan of Souls of Mischief too, even though I’m in the group, when I’m with other cats I love to hear the music and I like to hear the solo albums as well to see them even go further with it.

AC: Going off what you were saying earlier about the hardest thing is having been here for so long because new stuff always gets more attention. You hear a lot of mainstream writers, media people that say Hip-Hop is dead, and rappers will sometimes say that too. But there’s a lot of really good Hip-Hop out there if you know where to find it, so what do you listen to and what other artists in the genre inspire you?

T: Percy P, Guilty Simpson, Madlib, Black Milk. There’s a lot of groups that you probably won’t hear anywhere but satellite radio. I like Lil Wayne because he’s pushing the boundaries of mainstream but he’s doing something wild and crazy to something that just listened to dance rap so that’s good because maybe their minds will open a little more to people who dwell completely outside of that, but ain’t really much on TV that I like, not because it’s on TV, but because Rap music is really Pop music now. Hip-Hop can’t ever be dead. It may not inspire you the way that it used to, but that’s probably because you’re just not into it anymore. But as far as Hip-Hop, when we do shows and there’s thousands of kids there, it’s like, what are they talking about?

O: The way that Hip-Hop has been brought to the table and how it’s shown, it’s really not the true artform of it. It doesn’t represent. It’s more for trying to sell products, clothes, alcohol, stuff like that. It’s like a big commercial. But when there’s true artists trying to explore the creative process and what it takes to make a great song or a great lyric, a guy like J Electronica for instance is really dope. There’s people out there that’s doing it, but when you watch Rap City, you don’t get to see those guys that often.

I just feel like the vehicle that people are going to start getting Hip-Hop with is going to open the doors for more creative styles, people that are pushing the envelope stylistically and creatively which for me is the essence of Hip-Hop. How it was when De La Soul was coming out and A Tribe Called Quest was coming out, new flavors. I feel like that old form of commercialized, over-commercialized Hip-Hop, that is dead. It’s old hat, you can only use that so much before people get numb to it and it becomes a hard sell, pouring champagne everywhere, throwing money everywhere, people have seen that so much it doesn’t sell shoes how it used to, so now they’re going to start looking to the underground to do that.

AC: We were talking earlier about your latest project, Vulture’s Wisdom, Vol. 1. Talk about your vision for the trilogy, when the other albums are going to come out and what the idea behind these solo albums is.

O: I was just working with my man Architect, I’ve always been a fan of his music and his beats for a long time. He’s always been a cat that was out there, the style of his music is something that I always had a good time and enjoyed listening to. He worked next to us at High Street studios, he had a spot next to me so we had more of a chance to kick it and hang out and we were talking about doing a record, but it never really came together. Eventually I saw him in traffic one time and he was like, “I’ve got some beats, I’ve been thinking about you, we should do an album together.” When he hit me some of the beats and the style he was working with, it was perfect, we were right on the same page at the same exact time, so from there we just started collaborating and made a lot of music. Then we decided that we should not really stop at just one thing but hit cats with at least three projects, so that’s how the whole idea for the trilogy came up. The concept behind the title, like we were talking about earlier how everyone says Hip-Hop is dead, there’s nothing there, it’s over with whatever, we were like, “Nah, we can eat here, it’s still a viable option for us,” so that’s how the Vulture’s Wisdom title came into play.

We just are really trying to kill the backstory in terms of that being the forefront, we want to make the music the forefront, the style, the beats, the rhymes, the lyrics, not really like this guy did this, that, and the other. There’s always the story and sometimes it’s more interesting than the music and then you hear the music and you’re like, “this is what all the hoopla is about?” We want to bring it back to where the music is what people care about more so than the imagery. I feel like the 90s are something that people are trying to reach for right now, like that’s the golden ear, which for me is ’88, but other cats are more caught up in that ’93 era right now, always reaching back to the 90s and trying to bring it forward to here. Whereas I’ve always been a part of that connected to the whole essence of real Hip-Hop, so that’s where I come from, that’s my pedigree, whereas other cats might be trying to bring that back, I’m just trying to stay in that vein that I’ve always been in, that true essence of Hip-Hop, so it’s not a stretch for me to come and do something that people might call “real Hip-Hop,” that’s what we do, that’s Hieroglyphics, some of that good shit.

AC: Tajai – Stanford Anthropology grad, is that right?

T: Yea.

AC: How do you feel that education, that degree has helped your music? Have you incorporated that in your career at all?

T: It’s helped me with research, but that’s about it. School is school, it’s different from music, it just helped me research topics. Aside from that, it maybe helped me be organized in terms of my business, just going to school in general, but that’s about it.

AC: How important is it to you guys that you’re not major label? Do you think that you would have gotten anywhere near what you have accomplished if you were working for a major?

T: You’re just at the mercy of the market. There’s artists like J*Davey, Bilal, artists that you’ll never see their record. They’ve been in the industry now for almost a decade but because it doesn’t fit the labels idea of what records are supposed to be, it never comes out, so in that respect we probably would never have been able to bust the moves we could. It’s still different, it’s not like you’re doing it for a more noble purpose when you’re independent or you’re major. The way it is now, we’re like a major independent, us, DefJux, Rhymesayers, probably Stones Throw are labels where people want to get on the label, so it’s like they’re treating our independent record label like we would treat a major as a signed artist. We have more control, but really the market determines a lot of it and it’s harder right now to not be seen as generic in this marketplace because there’s so much. I mean, I think there’s more musicians than fans almost, especially rappers. So it’s hard to distinguish yourself as far as “into the marketplace,” so in that respect, it might even be better to be on a major label where they have the money to market you, where you have a shoe and a commercial and an appearance on Entourage and all these different things that are going to give you more exposure. Like when we put out a record, when we put out Vulture’s Wisdom, it has 8 videos, and how many of those are going to be on TV? We send them to TV, but do they end up on TV? No. So it’s really like we’re relegated to YouTube and MySpace and satellite radio and internet radio, and that’s the downside of being independent. It’s more a matter of exposure and it’s a double-edged sword. They’ll spend the money to expose you, but if they don’t like what they hear, they’re not going to expose you at all and you might never see the light of day.

O: If you’re doing it in terms of a business endeavor, you have to take advantage of what’s out there. I feel like for Souls of Mischief at the time, how the market was, us going major label was the best way for us to go at the time. To try to go independent would have been a bad look. It gave us a really good opportunity to get our music out there. We made what we really wanted and it got out to the people. For a time, the labels were all about trying to make super Pop Hip-Hop and I don’t know if they were going towards super avant-garde now, but definitely the tide has changed in terms of which artists are selling records. Lupe Fiasco is outselling artists, he’s like top-tier in terms of who the guy is. Kanye West outselling 50 Cent, so there’s a changing of the guard where if you are really more on the creative side of things, you might be able to get in and bust some moves, if you’ve got what it takes. Some people don’t necessarily have that appeal so it might be bad for them to go the independent route, you gotta really weigh your options. Cause the main thing, what you want to do is get your music out there for people to see you and listen to you and at the end of the day, to me that’s the most important thing. Then you can do whatever you gotta do with your hustle.

Check back with Evolving Music on Friday for part 2 where we discuss the future plans of the group, their thoughts on the remix culture and their favorite Hip-Hop albums of all time.

RIAA Backs Down and Out

Last month, the RIAA (Recording Industry Association of America) admitted a massive defeat when they announced that they would no longer be pursuing individuals guilty of peer-to-peer file sharing. As they attempted to flex their corporate muscles in the dorm rooms of music lovers throughout the country, the RIAA completely ignored the fact that not only was the epidemic of file sharing actually a pandemic that they are virtually helpless to stop (and in reality could cost them more in legal fees than the fines bring in), but they also failed to take into account the fact that without significant portions of the proceeds going back to the artists, the musicians themselves wouldn’t back them. RIAA Screws Musicians, 3/18/08

Now, the RIAA, in the final throes of these legal actions, has dropped the ball once again. They claim on one hand to be for the artists, seeking revenue they have lost, but as already stated, they aren’t giving the artists any of that money. On the other hand, they claim that their actions are simply to publicize their fight against illegal file sharing. Ironic then that when the judge presiding over the latest hearing and trial brought against Boston University students stated that a live web feed of the proceedings would be allowed to be broadcast, the RIAA opposed it. If you’re seeking to strike fear into the hearts of illegal downloaders everywhere, by first announcing that you’re no longer going to be hunting them, and then actively trying to block a live video feed of the proceedings, you’re not really putting any teeth into those claims. And blocking the feed certainly doesn’t give you the publicity you were looking for.

When an entity as large as the RIAA produces a failure on the level that they have here with their pursuit of illegal downloaders, one can only laugh. They not only perpetuated the vision of them as too weak-willed to follow through on serious criminal lawsuits designed to halt illegal file sharing, but more importantly they painted the entire history of these proceedings as a joke that was never about files, never about artist revenue, and simply only about themselves. Maybe I’d have some sympathy for the failure of these suits if they were giving money to the artists or legitimately trying to work with file sharers to stop the process. But when the big bully on the playground expects you to give up your lunch money just because he’s bigger than you, I say make him make you give him that money. In the end, the RIAA, for all their posturing and face-value scare tactics, failed themselves and the musicians.

If you’d like to see just what an RIAA hearing looks like, you’re now enabled to have an inside look at the courtroom on January 22nd. But tune in… the RIAA might not have many more of these fights to wage. Click here for the Wired post and links to the video feed sites.


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