Posts Tagged 'Stones Throw Records'

Kero One Interview

Kero One

Kero One

When it comes to DIY, it doesn’t get much more do-it-yourself than Bay Area born and bred Kero One. When he dropped his first album, Windmills of the Soul in 2005, he made it completely at home, charged up his credit card, released it on a self-made label, Plug, and became a hit when one of his original 50 copies found its way to Japan. Earlier this year, Kero One released his sophomore album, Early Believers, and I sat down to chat with him about his upbringing, musical history and thoughts on the evolution of the music industry.

AC: So you talk on Early Believers about your parents moving to the Bay Area. Where did they move from and was it a big culture shock for them?

KO: Well they came from Korea originally; and then they came here when I was… zero. Probably in 1978 or so. From what I understand, it’s a little bit different, of course, but you know, they adjusted. What I talk about on “Welcome to the Bay,” it’s just some of the experiences that I witnessed when we were in the South Bay growing up. I talked a little bit about that and also, I guess just a little bit about their adjustment in terms of, they’re used to a whole different lifestyle and obviously like different types of food and things like that. But, yeah, I mean, it was different, but of course they adjusted. And then we grew up in the south bay, and you know, I’ve obviously lived there for pretty much all my life.

AC: Whereabouts down there, San Jose?
KO: San Jose, Los Gatos, Santa Clara
AC: So how has your family played a role in the music that you’ve created?

KO: Well I’d say they made me take classical piano when I was really young, so, in the sense of being forced to take piano lessons, that was a pretty big role because, even though I hated it back then, I’m pretty thankful for it because I use it a lot in my music now. And other than that, not that much because really, they didn’t push me to do music; I mean, they’re kinda traditional Asian parents in the sense that they wanted the more, “education thing is a big deal,” and going to a good college and getting what they understand is a good job, whether it’s an engineer or doctor or something like that. So, they were really pushing for that, and, you know, honestly, when I told them I was rapping, I mean you can guess what their reaction was. Which is understandable, I guess, but now they’re fully supportive.

AC: You talked about learning classical piano. That was maybe the first of many instruments you learned; did you go on to learn any others, or was that the only formal training that you had?
KO: Yeah, that’s the only one I had formal training in, and I did that for 10 years almost. Technically it was probably like five years because the other five, I was kind of not really there. I hated classical music, but, when I was in middle school, I was really into punk, and I got into Primus and a little bit of rock like Red Hot Chili Peppers, and we all know, Flea and Les Claypool, ridiculous bassists. That inspired me to pick up the bass, and I started messing with the bass a little bit. So, other than that, it’s just bass, piano and I play a little bit of percussion; so those are my three things right now.

AC: Do you spin?
KO: Yeah, and I DJ as well. I got into scratching quite a bit when I was in college, so I was into the whole turntables thing, try to beat juggle, flares. I DJ out mostly in the city, one off events and sometimes I go out and DJ internationally, but, yeah, right now I’m just trying to focus on the live stuff.

AC: Do you play your instruments live in concerts?
KO: Well, actually for the last show, what we did was I incorporated a little bit of live keyboard and a little bit of live drumming, but something that I’ve always wanted to do was play some instruments and rap at the same time ’cause I’ve never seen anybody really do that. I’ve seen people sing, but not really rap, so that’s what I’m gonna be doing on my new show; just a little bit of that, and incorporate, I got a guitarist, I got a singer, and so we’re definitely bringing in like the live element to the live show, ’cause a lot of the stuff on my album is actually played out, it’s not samples, so it seems pretty natural to have live instruments.

AC: Out of all those instruments that you’re playing, which one are you enjoying playing the most?
KO: I’d say probably the keys. I’m not stellar player in any of the instruments, but when I do play the keys, it’s definitely fun when you can come up with a nice chord progression or some good solos, I’d say the keyboard.

AC: So you were talking about Primus, Red Hot Chili Peppers; what are some of your other musical influences and what are you listening to now?
KO: Man, I pretty much am influenced by everything from Mobb Deep in the early 90’s to John Mayer to Daft Punk, I listen to it all. Probably the only thing I don’t really get influenced by is country — I mean everybody says that, right — country or like folk, or something, or obviously classical music. But yeah, I listen to pretty much everything; like I grew up listening to really being into the early 90’s hip hop stuff, classic stuff.

AC: What was the first rap album you really got into?
KO: I’d say probably LL Cool J, Radio — I think that was the one. And then the BDP (Boogie Down Productions) stuff. So, yeah, BDP By All Means Necessary. And then for me, you know, I listened to that era when that came out, and then I went back to study other artists. Then, you know, from there, just expanded to Rare Groove and Soul and other related genres.

AC: So your initial album kind of made its break in Japan.
KO: Yeah.
AC: I’ve followed a number of hip-hop groups from Japan, but what would you say about the scene and the culture over there in the industry in terms of hip-hop?
KO: Well, definitely the culture plays a large roll, in the scene of hip hop over there because their culture, as you probably know, is very intense in terms of studying and breaking things down. I mean, when I was watching TV, and they were talking about, Indian Curry, I mean I was just watching from the hotel room and they were Japanese chefs, climbing barefoot on trees in India with the Indian guys there, to show this is how they do it, this is where they get it from, this is what it looks like and what it smells like, and they’re like breaking it down. I mean, that whole mentality is just kind of standard to me out there. They do that with hip-hop, and out there I learned more about music than I ever have in that short amount of time, ‘cause they know hella information, I mean, all the good music somehow just gets funneled over there and they have it at stores, the people who sell music are super knowledgeable. I basically discovered all these artists from the UK, from Europe, in other parts of Asia, even the States, out in Japan, you know. It’s really weird. I think because of that, they’re able to push the envelope a little bit. It’s definitely on another level out there, I think, in some ways.

AC: Did you pick up any Japanese hip-hop that you really liked while you were back there?
KO: DJ Mitsu is part of a group and I picked up their albums. I picked up a few instrumental albums out there. When I go out there, usually the labels will give me like a stack of CDs, so there are a couple CDs in there that are pretty dope. But yeah, definitely. I’m always getting new music while I’m out there.

AC: What’s been the most enjoyable part of the transition from web design and tech that you were doing to producing your own albums?
KO: Not having to listen to the boring meetings. I used to fall asleep in those meetings, you know. A lot of times I’d be at work, I’d be thinking about labels, music, I’d be stepping out very frequently to do maybe a press interview in the UK or whatever and since it’s international, you can’t miss that call, and so, you know, I gotta get up and go out and people probably started wondering why I was leaving so frequently. I still actually do a lot of web design now for my own stuff, so I haven’t strayed away from that too much. I hope to soon, but I don’t really miss the technical stuff that I need to learn, you know, just for that company; so now I can do whatever I need to do fix the public website or update the Kero One website or things like that.

AC: Have you retained or used anything from the job in actually getting your music heard?

KO: Well for sure in the sense those skills, I can apply to making websites, making them a little more functional, adding a little bit of interaction with it, like for example a mailing list, or something like that, whereas, you know, if I didn’t learn all that stuff, I’d probably be just a blogger or something, which is fine, but, for me, I’ve been able to take advantage of that. For example, I’ve pretty much configured our whole webstore on the website and now people can purchase things online. So, yeah, in that sense, that’s helped me a lot; so I definitely can’t ignore that.

AC: One of the lines I like from the new album is “wearing so many hats that your hair is concave.” So what’s been the hardest part of the scenario and trying to do it all for your label from rapping and producing your own music to being the label head?
KO: It’s definitely prioritizing your time. I had a PDA phone, which really kept me in check, but prioritizing time and figuring out where things need to be is probably the biggest challenge and now I have employees. Being able to stay on top and make sure that they’re being managed and they’re getting tasks done definitely takes up a lot of energy, but I think it’s definitely part of the grind, It’s a learning experience; I’ve learned a lot about the business. I’d say that another challenge is that I don’t want to take the business side to kind of supersede the creative aspects of my life, like the things I’m trying to do musically, I don’t want them to get pushed out of the picture, so lately with employees and things like that, it’s been helping out a lot, but there’s nothing without challenges.

AC: This whole album is full of really jazzy hip-hop, a lot of jazz influence on it; what was the approach that you used to make these songs and was your intent to go that heavy with the jazz? Was that something you wanted to do?

KO: You know, it’s really weird, I always get that comparison out and get told that it’s very jazzy and I guess I’m not ignorant to that fact, but I don’t actually say I’m gonna try to make it like this. I just usually try to go with what I like and just want to make something I enjoy. For some of the tracks, like “Love and Happiness,” which was produced by King Most, I mean, he just played me a bunch of beats, but when he played that one, that jumped out. I was like “Dude, that beat is ridiculous. I’m gonna have to add that.” So, you know, it wasn’t really a conscious thing to make it like that, but the other approach for this album was that, as opposed to Windmills, I wanted to give a little more diversity in terms of the tempos, the arrangements, I’m bringing in different Soul artists and features and just make it a little bit, I guess, less heavy. Because the first album, Windmills, was very personal and there were a lot of things on there that were very sexual. I mean this one, even though I put that in there, I also wanted to balance it out with something that’s a little fun, tracks like “Keep Pushin’” where you could have people dancing to it. I really wanted to keep it diverse.

AC: Your music sounds pretty complete in terms of the concepts that you have behind it, the musical ideas that you’re trying to bring into it. What are your thoughts, then, on the burgeoning remix and mash-up cultures?

KO: I’m really down with it, actually. As a DJ, I love finding music to remix or mash-up anything because I like to play songs that, even though they may be popular, ’cause they get people dancing, and they get people into the groove, it’s always nice to throw a curve ball at them, you know. I’m all about remixing stuff. I’ve done a few myself; I did a remix of Common’s “The Light.” DJ King Most, whom I worked with, we released some of his remixes for the DJs, and so it’s something that I’m definitely into playing. I don’t do that many in terms of, you know, taking well-known a cappellas and remixing them, but I do like projects here and there that are commissioned, I did a Talib Kweli remix and I’m working on a few Asian artists right now that I’m remixing, this group called Epik High.

AC: What do you think of making your stems available?
KO: Oh, for other people to remix.
Well, I have had a few a cappellas out there for people to remix, and I’ve gotten a few back. As far as stems, as in actual parts, not really, I’m not too into that. I feel like a remix should be like a regenerated or a totally new look at the beat and the project and the vocals. Otherwise, there’s no point to me.
AC: Between the record labels, the MP3s, the file sharing, where do you see music now, and where do you see there being a nice meeting place between consumer happiness and artist revenue?
KO: It always makes me a little, um…I don’t know, it’s like a mix between a chuckle and frustration when I hear people saying, on the blogs or whatnot, that “artists need the exposure and that’s why we’re gonna file share.” I mean, come on, that’s like complete BS. Honestly, for me, I’ll admit, I have downloaded illegally and when I have done that in the past, it’s just ‘cause you want the music, you know, it’s not any of the other stuff. I mean, it’s something that’s gonna be free and it’s gonna be in front of your face and most of the time, people will just take it. So, I don’t think it’s the people’s fault out here who want music; it’s the fault of the government and the regulations that aren’t being pushed appropriately on the internet.
For example, when we released Dream Talk, The Tones album, that released and it was at the top 50 of iTunes downloading, and then, a couple days later, all these blogs started showing up with the illegal download links for the albums and, in the dashboard you could see that the sales just plummeted. Right on that day, they just plummeted. And these kids, they’re hungry, and they’ve got mouths to feed, they’re trying to do music full time, so it really makes it tough. Of course we’ve got a team working on it on the security side, but it would definitely help, if and when these government regulations come into place that it kinda polices the activity out there, because, contrary to popular belief, artists do really get hurt by that. Maybe not a Kanye West, for example, but independent artists definitely don’t get to see that kind of return.
I think in that sense, I guess I could see the other side of the argument that, yeah, people have discovered a lot of great music through that as well. When I went to tour in Poland, I had people come up to me, and was like, “yeah, I’m sorry, we all downloaded your music illegally, but there’s no other way we can get it, we’re poor,” and all this stuff. Whether it’s true or not, they were there at the show and I see both sides. So, I think, back when albums were being sold for 10 dollars at Warehouse or whatever and there was nowhere else you could find that, I think a lot of people found out about those albums. I mean, when Nas or whatever came out in the 90’s to Berkeley, that show was packed, and it’s not because people got free music necessarily, it was just ‘cause they heard it on the radio and then they went and supported it and they got real’ into it, ‘cause really there was no real file sharing then. So, I think even with clamping down on illegal file sharing, things can still be really good, but we’ll have to see. We’ll have to see what happens; I really can’t predict it.
AC: Have you seen more of your revenues and artists from iTunes sales or from hardcopy CDs and shows
KO: I would say, probably from iTunes sales. CD sales have just dropped, like, pretty crazy. Though we still get a lot, you know, but it’s a lot slower.
AC: Have you started working on new songs already?
KO: No, I haven’t. I mean, I’ve been working on some remix projects, like I said, with the Korean group Epik High. I’m also mustering up some ideas on another project, but I haven’t actually started working on anything. I always like to release something and kinda reset and kinda figure out what I wanna do.
AC: So what’s up next for the Plug Label?
KO: Well obviously this album we’re gonna promote. We’re still promoting the Dream Talk album. I got a project comin’ up with this guy Green Tea, he does kinda like hip hop, kinda house beats. And then we got DJ King Most, who’s releasing a hip hop album with a bunch of guests. We’re gonna try to keep busy and really take it to that level of being an established label.
AC: How’d you connect with The Tones?
KO: Well The Tones, I actually heard about them on Myspace a while ago. I forget exactly how it happened, but we started chatting and then they had a couple tracks together, but not a full album. I liked what I heard; I mean, I knew that they had something special in terms of their sound, and so after a few chats, I signed ‘em and they basically simply got a full album together and then we went from there. And then we released that album in December!
AC: Yeah, that album’s good. It’s really good.
KO: Thanks. Yeah, I’m sure they’ll appreciate that. It’s interesting because I knew that, it’s definitely a good sound, I just didn’t know how impactful it would be in the hip hop community, ‘cause I guess a lot of people in the hip hop community really wanted to hear something like that. So, yeah, it’s pretty cool that they’ve been received that way.
AC: I think as pop hip hop goes further south in terms of quality, I think there’s gonna be even more of a backlash going the other way to find quality hip hop. Do you want Plug Label to be your side thing, and you’re doing music? Or do you envision Plug Label getting to a place where it’s up there with Stones Throw or Rhymesayers, or do you want to keep it small?
KO: I’d say I want to keep it small in the sense that everything that we put out is still hand-picked and not just to throw it out there, you know, to have a full release schedule. If we have to wait six months for a good album, then we’ll wait six months before we release it. I just feel like the more and more that we add to a catalogue and the more and more I compromise the vision of it musically, I feel like that’s where I’m gonna start losing interest in the label, and others will probably start losing interest because really, the problem I see right now is there’s too much information out there, you know, too much music, and I really wanna be able to kinda like consolidate that to people. That’s my vision, you know. So we’ll see what happens.

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.


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