Archive for the 'music history' Category

Twitter’s New Theme Song: “Follow Me”

I am blatantly stealing this from Boothism cause it’s so classic. (Thanks, Kwan!) Check out his blog. He’s got a lot of cool stuff going on and he’s a great writer.

Whether you’re part of the Twitterati (if you are, you better be following us) or not, you can probably appreciate the suggestion that this become Twitter’s theme song. (Or Barack Obama’s theme song, as ajcgn suggested.) Old school house by Aly Us. Anybody know what year this is from?

RIP Les Paul

Les Paul

A sad day in music today as one of the older trailblazers, Lester “Les Paul” William Polfuss passed away. He was 94. Born only a few short years after the sinking of the Titanic, Paul lived through two World Wars, numerous armed skirmishes, the Depression, three “first” Supreme Court Justices as well as the first African-American president. But in a life that spanned all of those historic events, his contributions to music, the recording industry and the guitar dramatically changed the way it was created, played and recorded on a level unparalleled elsewhere.

Not only was Paul an accomplished musician, but his DIY tendencies and desire to see how things worked lead him to develop technology that shaped the future of the music industry and huge developments within genres. The standard of multitrack recording was pioneered by Paul, and the practices of overdubbing and delays were advanced by him as well. Dissatisfied with the acoustic guitars available, Paul created his own electric guitar. This would go on to be manufactured and sold by Gibson, becoming one of the iconic guitars for rock musicians from multiple generations. Certainly we may not have had the Steve Miller Band were it not for Paul being Miller’s Godfather and giving him his first guitar lesson. I’ve also read that when he broke his arm he asked the doctor to reset it in a permanent guitar playing position. I can neither confirm nor deny that.

When it comes to instrumentation and studio techniques, few people in the recording industry have had as much of an impact as Les Paul. His influence and love for music was so great that he continued playing guitar into the last year of his life, and created continued inspiration for premier guitarists worldwide. In a musical climate where “innovation” comes in the form of auto-tune and artists rarely have more than monetary attachments to the instruments they play, Paul’s truly significant leaps of technology and his subsequent engineering attachment to the instruments he created will remain singular and unique for some time to come.

Happy 30th Birthday Walkman

Happy July, Happy Canada Day, and Happy 30th Birthday to the Sony Walkman. To shed some light on the technological leaps and bounds made since its advent, BBC brilliantly handed one to a 13 year old for a week to review. He (rather eloquently) delineates his experience here.

Luckily, although Sony “initially planned to call the machine ‘Soundabout’ in the United States and ‘Stowaway’ in Britain,” the term Walkman caught on quickly among consumers. In honor of the pesky little device that started it all, lets take a trip down memory road. For those among you who like to delve into model numbers and such minutiae, check out the Classic Walkman Museum.

My personal favorite was always the sporty yellow model. Remember that bad boy?

yellowwalkman

If the Walkman was the iPod’s predecessor, perhaps this commercial planted the seed for all those flashy iPod commercials.

Words can’t convey how rad it was when they came out with a “cassette player as small as a cassette tape!” Want to know more about the how? These guys do a good job explaining how the technology evolved.

Not into collecting vintage electronics or exploring historical perspectives like the young Mr. Campbell? How about using an ancient walkman to disguise an iPod and deter thieves?

Happy Birthday Mr. Walkman. We’ll always love you. Even when Apple puts your maker out of business. You have a very special place in our hearts, right next to Ferris Bueller, Fraggle Rock, and side ponytails.

New Orleans Mardi Gras in the 40s and 50s

Happy Fat Tuesday everyone! As you prepare to give something up for lent, watch people you know go through the process, or just enjoy the festivities surrounding the occasion, I leave you with a glimpse of the early days in New Orleans:

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.

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.

Illa J Interview

Illa J

Illa J, the younger brother of hip-hop legend J Dilla, has stepped out on his own into the world of music with last week’s release of his debut album on Delicious Vinyl, Yancey Boys. I had a chance to catch up with Illa J last week and discuss his musical influences, working with Delicious Vinyl, making a recording studio from J Dilla’s equipment, and the importance of originality in music. Here’s what he had to say.

AC: What were you initial musical influences and where do you find most of the inspiration for your work?

IJ: Growing up, the first music I ever listened to was jazz. My Dad would always be playing the Manhattan Transfers and the Four Freshmen, so I got into it early. My early influences were Al Green, Marvin Gaye, Sam Cooke, Stevie Wonder and a lot of Soul early on.

AC: Is it true your parents were in a jazz a cappella group?

IJ: Yea, they had their own group. They used to practice in our living room at home for hours and hours, and that’s how I got my musical ear, because they sang so much I had no choice but to learn all the jazz chords.

AC: Talk about growing up the younger brother of one of hip-hop’s most well known producers. How did this hurt you and how did it help you?

IJ: I don’t think it hurt me in anyway. If anything, people because of that, the first thing they want to do is compare me to my brother. Honestly, I don’t even think about that. When I’m in the studio, I’m in the zone, it’s all about the music. At the end of the day, I was brought up around nothing but music and that’s in my blood lines. In my immediate family, pretty much everyone sings and everybody writes songs and are musicians, so it’s pretty normal in my household that someone can sing or play an instrument. So it’s really no pressure to me, I’m just doing my thing, having fun.

AC: So when did you first start formally performing in front of audiences and when did you actually make the decision that music was going to be your career?

IJ: I always knew from a young age that I was going to do music. I’d be in front of the TV, a video or something would be on and I’d act like I was singing, and I’d always be singing around the house. I always knew I was going to do music, I just didn’t know when. And after my brother passed, when you have a big loss like that, a lot of people when they have big losses, in a sense it gives them a whole new perspective on life. That’s what happened with me. To lose my bigger brother that soon, cause I didn’t expect to lose him at 32, that definitely changed my life from that day on. I knew before that, even midway through college, I kinda knew I was going to work in music, but after he passed, that’s when I dedicated my life to music, just do what’s in my blood, do my craft, and that’s pretty much how it started.

AC: I read in another interview you did that you liked Los Angeles because people were always getting stuff done. Do you still feel that way about the city and what in your mind stands out as the brightest part about LA?

IJ: Not necessarily getting things done… people get stuff done in Detroit too, but right now, Detroit is kinda crazy, especially with how the economy is. Out here, I feel that it’s a whole new city for me, and I feel a lot more relaxed. When I’m in Detroit, I feel that there’s a lot going on and so many distractions, but when I’m out here, I’m free to just stick to my craft.

AC: In terms of music that you created in Detroit vs. music that you created in Los Angeles, do you feel that there’s a big difference there in terms of what you’ve done with the different atmospheres?

IJ: Out here, I really got the chance to practice in the studio. Back in Detroit, at that time I didn’t have a studio, so I didn’t get the chance to be in the vocal booth to practice. I recorded a track in the studio with my brother when I was 13, but other than that I hadn’t recorded anything. When I’m in Detroit, I have a whole different mind state. In Detroit, it’s almost like walking down the street you’re watching your back every so many minutes. People can tell that I moved out here because I’m a lot more relaxed than I was in my music. When I first started recording, I was a lot more aggressive because in a sense it was like I wanted to get out. Now I’m a lot more relaxed in my music, and you can feel that I’m just letting go, not really forcing it and letting it flow in a sense.

AC: I heard that you built your own studio out in LA using your brother’s equipment. Talk about that studio, what of his equipment you’ve used, and how that process has worked for you.

IJ: I have my brother’s Digidesign Pro Control board, I have some of the racks, his C12 mic, and his MPC 3000 and of my own, I have a Motif and bass guitar. I’m working on getting another guitar and a drum set. (7:10)

AC: You’re signed to Delicious Vinyl which is known for producing some of the most well known hip-hop of the early ‘90s. Talk about your introduction to Mike Ross and what joining Delicious Vinyl was like for you.

IJ: The first time I met Mike Ross was in ’06 and the next time I met him after that was in March ’07. Around that time is when he gave me a CD with 38 tracks on it that my brother produced from ’95 to ’98. These were tracks that he was making while he was working with Pharcyde and also just doing remix stuff, Delicious Vinyl puts out a lot of remixes. Pretty much, at that time, he told me to just pick a track from there just to see what it sounded like because he was going to try to do a compilation of various artists that worked with my brother.

The next time I talked to him after that was in January of ’08. I was hitting him up cause I wrote this song and I was like, “You gotta hear this song.” At that time, I wasn’t even thinking of making an album with Delicious Vinyl, I was just gonna see if he could help me out in a sense and get out there and try to jump start my career, I just wanted him to hear the song. At that time I didn’t think I was going to do an album with him. He came over in February of ’08 and I played him the song on the Motif and he was like, “I like your voice,” and he wanted to hear some more joints, so I played him some more and he had me perform at this club a couple days after that, and it just happened to be on my brother’s birthday, February 7th, ‘08. After my performance he came up to me and was like, “You killed it, why don’t you just do the whole album?” That’s pretty much how the album started. As far as working with Delicious, it’s definitely dope. Pharcyde is one of my favorite groups, so I’m in the office looking at Pharcyde and Tone Loc and it’s funny to see my album up on the wall with them. Especially Delicious being where my brother kick started his career, it’s almost like everything came full circle.

AC: You mentioned the CD that Ross gave you with all the tracks your brother did from ’95-98. What was hearing this CD for the first time like and when you heard it, did it give you a specific idea of the direction you wanted your album to go in?

IJ: The first time I heard it, I had never heard the tracks before, and I really got a chance to listen to them, they really connected me back to ’95 as soon as I listened to it. It reminded me of the days that I’d sit on the stairs listening to my brother make tracks in the basement, and the sound he was making at that time. I was nine years old, so in a sense I had an instinct for what I wanted to do over them. They also have a lot of jazz chords, and that connected to me well because I was brought up on Jazz first so the minors, D7, changes, things like that I’m used to, so automatically I had a connection with the tracks and they fit my song writing style too. At the end of the day, my brother, even though he could write too, he was known more as a producer and I see myself as a singer/songwriter first before anything.

AC: Let’s talk about Yancey Boys. What was your vision for this album when you started and what was the process like in working on it?

IJ: For one thing, when you listen to the album, you hear the theme of time throughout the album. That’s because the original title for the album was going to be Timeless. I kinda wanted to make a timeless album, for example, so many of the old albums, Off the Wall, or Prince albums, when you listen to their stuff, it was made way back in the ‘80s and it’s still relevant today when you listen to it, you know what I mean? I didn’t want to necessarily try to make anything for the radio, cause there’s not really a single on the album, it’s an album, one complete piece of artwork. The tracks were from ’95, but I’m recording in 2008, so that connection and the fact that the music was still relevant today, that’s the tip I was going on. Mike Ross, he liked the Timeless idea, but he was like, “Yea, it’s timeless, but it’s so much more than that too,” cause he was really feeling it. When I would do shows, and my production company, to pay tribute to my brother and my family, I called it Yancey Boys. He was like, “Why don’t you call it Yancey Boys?” and it didn’t take too long to think about I was like, “Yea, that’s pretty dope.” And we went from there.

AC: What I like about this album is how laid back it is. You sit back and nod to it, you never feel overwhelmed by the album. Would you say that that’s a product of your personality, or were you specifically aiming for that and you see future albums going in a different direction?

IJ: Well the album is definitely laidback. One thing about this album is that when I wrote to it, as a songwriter, the music came first. So the beats and the tracks already had a laidback feel to it, and as a writer, it’s my job to let the music speak to me instead of me just writing my ideas over the beats, let the music speak to me because the tracks were already done.

AC: What’s your favorite track on the album and why?

IJ: My favorite track on the album is “Timeless.” On my Myspace page, I have joints on my page, but that was only stuff because I had nothing else to put up at that time, and I wasn’t going to put up my really good stuff on my page, so I just put up joints to keep stuff moving. At that time, I didn’t know if people were ready to hear where I was really going with the music because this album is really a true representation and my intro. This is truly my introduction and music that I feel represents me. “Timeless” was really an expression of me as an artist. It’s so full and the chords bring out the emotions, and that’s what I liked about it for me when I was writing it.

AC: There’s 14 tracks on Yancey Boys and you said you had 38 on the CD from Ross so are we looking at more albums in your future with other songs produced by your brother?

IJ: Maybe, it all depends on the track. A lot of people think that I just went off this with a lot of Dilla beats and was like, “I’ll do an album.” But I was actually working with other producers and was producing myself. I’ll only use my brother’s tracks if I feel it’s right. It’s gotta be the right track. I know that when he was in studio making tracks, even if you were in the studio with him, if he played a beat, you could like it or whatever, but it didn’t necessarily mean he was making that for you, he might just be making that for himself. I know my brother. By me doing this album, it means that I know my brother would be cool with it.

AC: We talked earlier about your initial musical influences. Who in the industry today, music wise, do you look at as a true talent?

IJ: Definitely Amy Winehouse. Her album, Back to Black, inspired me a lot. That album, in a sense, is timeless. You can’t really fit a particular era to it. You could play it way back in the day and it would still sound right.

AC: How do you see the current scene in hip-hop, what do you think is good about it, and what in your mind needs to be changed?

IJ: My main thing is pretty much when I was growing up, the artists I was looking up to, my favorite thing about artists was how unique his voice was or how unique her voice was. It’s about originality, being original. When Busta came out, it’s like nobody sounds like him, he’s got his own style. As long as it’s about being original, it should alright. At the end of the day, you can only be the best you you can be, I can only be the best Illa J, just like my brother is Dilla and he can only be Dilla, that’s him. As an artist, you can’t be afraid to be original, take a chance, and when I think I’m going super left field, at the same time, who’s to say how far you can go?

AC: One last question for you. I read in another interview that you would have liked to work on Michael Jackson‘s Off the Wall album. What album in the hip-hop genre would you have liked to have worked on and what album in your opinion stands out to you in terms of “greatest of all time?”

IJ: I kinda wish I had been working on it when my brother was making Welcome to Detroit. Also, his work with Slum Village.

AC: Anything you want to plug? Upcoming concert dates, releases?

IJ: I’ve got my release party out in Cali at the Little Temple in Santa Monica. That’s November 20th. I’ll be touring soon and check out my myspace page… Myspace.com/illajmusic. The album’s out in stores, go cop it.


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