Posts Tagged 'ProTools'

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.

AmpLive Interview

Amplive

AmpLive has been one of the most talented and diverse producer/DJs of the last ten years. His work as part of the Zion I duo has exemplified an ability to bring in a variety of musical styles and genres to the hip-hop world. In addition to this work, Amp has worked with or done remixes for Goapele, Akon and Nicole Scherzinger of the Pussy Cat Dolls. He has also produced music for ESPN‘s Sportscenter, So You Think You Can Dance?, America’s Next Top Model, and MTV’s shows Cribs and The Real World. On top of the musical creation, he has earned a Platinum Plaque for his Linkin Park remix as well as The Guardian‘s “Best Producer in the Bay,” and San Francisco Weekly‘s “Best Hip Hop Group in the Bay” awards. AmpLive’s recent release, Rainydayz Remixes, a remix album of the Radiohead album In Rainbows, has received considerable press, word of mouth, and excellent reviews. The mash-ups, utilizing and remixing pieces of the original album, received Radiohead’s blessing to be distributed for free. Because of the MixMatch nature of this album and the various production, distribution and copyright issues associated with such an undertaking, we thought it was about time to catch up with Amp and talk to him about his musical history and future, his run at the Radiohead album, and the future of the music industry and distribution models in general. Below is the interview Amp granted to Evolving Music to talk about these issues. Insert gratitude and round of applause here…

AC: Your music and production, from Mind Over Matter to Heroes in the City of Dope, always exhibits a huge variety of sounds and influences from different genres that speaks to a diverse musical enjoyment. What genres catch your ear, what is the foundation of your personal musical enjoyment, and when starting out on songs, is it a conscious effort to bring these genres in, or are they embedded and just come out in your music?

Amp: Well, I grew up exposed to different types of music. I am from Texas, so I was surrounded by country music. I played the drums at my church, listened to hip hop, skate punk and techno in middle school, took piano lessons, and was forced to watch the local symphony at least twice a month. So I look at music as a big bubble. All genres catch my ear. I feel that you can find something good in everything. When I am creating songs, I generally go off the feeling that I have or the point I want to get across versus thinking of the genre that it would be in.

AC: Zion I, at various times, has brought in collaborating MCs and producers. For Heroes in the City of Dope, Grouch was brought on for the entire album. What process do you use when determining who you’d like to work with on upcoming tracks? When you do collaborate, is there a set formula you like to use for combining with another musician, or is it a more organic process? How have your collaborations contributed to your personal growth as an artist, and do you find yourself revisiting methods you picked up from people you’ve made music with in your own?

Amp: Collaborations and observation has definitely helped me grow as a producer. When I first started in the early 90s, Spearhead X, who was a producer for Dallas Austin, taught me how to tighten my drums. While L Rock, who now is a main producer in Lil Jon‘s camp, helped with musical arrangements and learning how to play. So as I evolved and started becoming a professional years later, I took these experiences and applied them to my music. So in doing the collaboration album, Heroes in the City of Dope, I wanted to make sure there was equal input from everyone. For that album Grouch and I gave approval on the beats and the songs as they were finished. So we both had our touches on the music, even if I produced the track.

AC: Is there one genre that you most enjoy incorporating in your music, and is there any sound you’ve been wanting to work in a song that you haven’t done yet?

Amp: Hip Hop music is my basis and in my soul, so that will always be incorporated into my music. I have always wanted to do a song using a harp. Hopefully in the future that will happen!

AC: Obviously your remix of In Rainbows demonstrates an appreciation for the album. How long have you been a Radiohead fan, what initially introduced you to their music and which is your favorite song and album? Now that they’ve proven amenable to your remix effort, are you considering working on any of their other work?

Amp: Ive been a Radiohead fan since the late 90s. “Karma Police” from the album Ok Computer was what set it off for me. Even though that was their hit song and everyone liked it at that time, the hip hop feel and knock of it captured me. Then their sound got more electro and I really started getting into them. I would have to say that before In Rainbows, Kid A was my favorite album. I just think they are off the hook because they successfully push the envelope at all times. I would definitely do more remix work, just approach it differently next time.

AC: The growth of collaborations when it comes to mash-ups is something that has really been quite fast over a relatively short period of time. Was this the first time you had thought about doing something like this, and what prompted you, over any other music you might currently be listening to, to work with this album?

Amp: Well, I have always done remixes and twisted up music. I did my first mashup cd about a year ago, Beats, Remixes, and a side of Mashups, where I took all kinds of vocals, including old Zion I a cappellas, and combined them with different music. It got a really good response and people were telling me that they liked it better than the normal mashups. Thats why I thought that I could do this well.

AC: There are a few songs, “Bodysnatchers,” “House of Cards” and “Jigsaw Falling Into Place,” from In Rainbows that you didn’t work with on the Remixes. What made you decide to work with the tracks you did?

Amp: Well, for one timing. I had started working on a remix for “House of Cards” and “Bodysnatchers,” but there wasnt enough time to finish and do what I wanted to do. Especially “Body Snatchers.” Man, that song is good!! I just messed with the songs that I felt were the easiest to remix first.

AC: Initially you received a Cease and Desist for these tracks. What was the progression from that letter to Radiohead allowing them to be distributed? Was it a process that went on through the labels, or through you and the band?

Amp: Basically, after the cease and desist came, we reached out to Radiohead. After sending them the songs and listening to them, they gave an ok for the release.

AC: What are your thoughts on the method of going without a label to start, allowing consumers to pick the price of the album and providing it for free as Radiohead did with In Rainbows? You’ve also now released and received considerable press from your remixes being available for free. What is your view of this change in distribution, and where do you see the traditional label industry heading in the next five years?

Amp: I think that it was ground breaking how they decided to do that. It was giving back to the fans who have been supporting them. By giving the album away for free at first and then offering it for sale later was saying that “for all of the people who have been supporting us, we will give you first dibs on the new record”. I think that shows respect. I think the industry is changing, but I dont know the end result. I do feel that groups will have to do more than just rely on their music for income. The song is going to be more of a business card than a product. A group’s show and merchandise are going to be the new product. I think that the traditional label is going to combine with management and marketing formats. It will be all in one.

AC: I think your description of the song as a business card for musicians is a very solid one. I think a lot of people believe that with iTunes now being the second largest music distributor in the world and songs being sold for a dollar, artists are seeing more revenue from the sale of their music. Is this a true assumption on the part of the consumer? And could you address how the change in format and distribution has altered your income from the release of Mind Over Matter, which was primarily CD and word of mouth, and has since been released on iTunes, to later albums that were released on iTunes immediately? What DOESN’T the consumer know about artist profits from their music distribution?

Amp: Well, the biggest misconception is that the artists are making more money because of iTunes. What consumers (and artists actually) need to realize, is that it takes money to make money. Having your music on iTunes is only going to sell it if you are able to spend the proper amount of money and have a working staff of people to promote where to find your music. This is where a record label or promotions company comes into play. I have always been independent so the way i see my revenue hasn’t changed as much. Because I have been putting out albums since 1997, I have been able to build a fan base that has followed my music from the CD to the digital era. So things have been consistent, in terms of the career of Zion I.

AC: In your music, what is currently holding the most interest for you and what has brought you the most enjoyment recently? You’ve been doing DJ sets now, how do these differ for you in preparation and presentation from your shows as Zion I? Is there any work being done on a new album?

Amp: Definitely doing the Rainydayz Remixes brought me enjoyment. I also have been working with the soul artist Codany Holiday and his album is sounding tight. But most of all the new Zion I album, The Take Over, has been really tight to complete. I have been DJing for years, it’s nothing new. For Zion I I just wanted to step up the game and do more than just play tracks in the back, so I make live music on stage too. But I plan to incorporate that into my djing also.

AC: The work you do with Codany Holiday on the Rainydayz album is tight. In your work on his album, are you moving more into classical soul sounds, have you been slipping hip-hop into his soul? Talk a bit about the collaboration with him and what it’s meant for both of you in terms of releasing a soul album.

Amp: Codany Holiday (pronounced Courtney) is a naturally gifted singer. So producing for him hasn’t been hard at all. The biggest challenge was the sound we wanted to go with. I thought it was best to go with what was natural to him. When you talk to him about his mentors and what singers he admires, they range from Marvin Gaye, Donny Hathaway to Phillip Bailey (Earth, Wind, & Fire). So I definitely wanted to use more classic soul production, but hip hop with a 2009 twist to it. The response has been great. With Codany has been down with Zion I for awhile, he has been involved in alot of our songs. Working with him and producing his album was only natural. He brings alot of ideas to the table with production and arrangements. He is “the truth” in terms of gifted soul singers.

AC: Over the years you’ve been creating music, has there been one change or innovation that has significantly altered how you think about or make music?

Amp: Definitely the use of the computer and software to make music has been the big change for me. For years I just used analog equipment, ASR10, MPC, and all the other traditional machines. Now everything is on the computer and the songs are right in front of you…makes you look at music in a different way.

AC: In terms of looking at the music visually in a different way, could you talk about how that changes your approach to making the music? Do you find yourself dealing with creation in a different way now that you see the music visually and what are those differences? Would you be willing to give a description of step by step process you take, from mental idea to finished song?

Amp: Using Pro Tools and Logic has definitely made me look at music differently. Instead of seeing beats as loops, I now have the whole song mapped out in front of me. Its like looking at a song linear instead of circular. So to make a very basic song I always start with a melody or drum pattern, then build on top of that. Once I have something going in a quick loop I spread it out in the computer by repeating that part to the length of about 5 minutes. Within that I add beat changes and other sounds.

AmpLive’s creative and dynamic approach to music is amazing. His use of various genres from a musically diverse upbringing has helped the movement infusing the hip-hop genre with new sounds and broader spectrums. He is currently on tour and working on music for Codany Holiday and the upcoming Zion I release The Take Over. You can find his music through Myspace, iTunes and any other place music is sold. Evolving Music and MixMatchMusic would like to once again thank AmpLive for his time and energy in providing this interview.


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