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Interview w/ Nappy Roots: Concious of the South


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It’s been nearly 10 years since Nappy Roots burst onto the mainstream scene with 2002’s Watermelon, Chicken & Grits but the Kentucky crew is still going strong. They’ve been getting their independent grind on lately and are ready to jump back into the limelight with their new album Nappy Dot Org, produced entirely by southern legends Organized Noize. I talked with the group about the new album, working with Organized Noize and being labeled as the “conscious of the south.”

Calvin: First off, how did you guys meet and start doing music together?
Skinny Deville: We hooked up in college between the years of ’93 and ’98 at Western Kentucky University in Bowling Green. Everybody was exceptional lyrically, and as the years progressed, we all got dope with the lyricism that made Nappy Roots what it is. In ’98 we put out our first independent project, Country Fried Cess, that got the attention of Atlantic Records. We recorded a whole album with Atlantic that didn’t come out in ’99, then we put out Watermelon, Chicken & Grits in 2002.
Calvin: Having spent a little time on campus myself, I can only imagine the feeling of becoming stars while you’re still in school. How was that experience?
Skinny: It was exciting when we first signed. To be the first hip hop group to sign from out of Kentucky and to be at school while you’re doing it? You know your pussy rate goes sky high when shit like that happens. So for us it was very exciting at the time; but while we were recording, we were going an hour away to Nashville to make the album. Then coming home after a session and then going to class the next morning and go right back to Nashville. It starts to put a wear and tear on your body. Then, to do all that and find out your album is being shelved because they don’t know how to market you because you’re from Kentucky was kind of disappointing. Because for all the hype and hoopla we did, we had to go back and eat our words for a year a two. People were asking like “Where it’s at?” “Y’all singed, when’s the shit dropping?” So, it was hype at first but very humbling to know that you have to go back to the drawing board and do it all over again. It was bittersweet but I’d do it all over again.
Calvin: You talked about the setback that you had to go through, so what type of expectations did you have for Watermelon, Chicken and Grits? Did you really expect the type of response did you end up getting?
B Stille: Basically, we didn’t have any expectations. We knew we had something on campus. Way before it was anything national, we were doing it on campus. So we were hoping that we had the response that we did but it definitely was an overwhelming surprise. That allowed us to do what we do now, which is make our own records independently for Nappy Roots Entertainment.
Calvin: You have the indie situation going on now, but people may not know about you resume as far as Grammy wins and nominations and such. Are you more comfortable in the space you’re in now as opposed to 2002?
Skinny: Yeah man. In 2002, it was a new pair of shoes. They were nice and white. Feel me? That’s what Nappy Roots was back then. Because it was refreshing to see some guys coming out of pretty much nowhere and talking about some shit that no one really ever talks about. And it was actually still cool and relevant. When we come out now, we don’t have to worry about MC Such and Such doing what he does. That’s fine. The hottest rapper right now has no effect on what Nappy Roots is doing whatsoever. It’s not about the newest, hottest thing with Nappy Roots. It’s the consistent expected ‘they’re not going to fail me’ quality of music that we put out and the common’s man perspective that we rap from.
Calvin: Seeing as how you finessed your situation and were able to stay in the game so long, what kind of advice would you give to new artists coming into the industry?
Ron Clutch: I would jump off of what Skinny said and say be consistent. Be you and while you’re doing you, make sure you’re not doing anybody else. Originality is one of the main ingredients, especially in this day and age since you have so many outlets to fans online; you can build a fan base. Establish yourself online as well as out here in these streets. It’s cats out here filling up clubs off mixtapes. That lets you know where the game is at right now. The game is wide open. There’s also a drawback to that because everybody wants to be a rapper now. They have logic or pro tools and they can do a whole album and get it on iTunes in a summer. So be original, be yourself and learn the business.
B Stille: It’s better to be original and it’s not even about what’s hot. There’s no formula. So my advice would be to just grind and work hard. Get out here in DJ’s faces and take your music to the club. Create your own movement because once that happens, you can have the opportunity and the option to be independent and make more money off your sales that way. It’s cool to be independent, but if you’re selling to 20 fans, you might as well hang it up and get a regular job.
Calvin: I understand you’ve been in the studio with southern sonic legends Organized Noize. What’s it been like working with them?
Skinny: The feeling has been incredible to get Organized Noize to produce your album, and for that album to be the shit is incredible. You’d think just because someone gives you a dope beat that it’s easy money, but you have to combine that with the lyrics and intensity. And they’ll tell you if it ain’t right. Thank God we didn’t have too many of those type of sessions [laughs].
But they inspired us. They made us step our game up and the intensity to match the production. They’re like the Rick Rubin’s of the south. Some of your first recollections of hip hop may be OutKast or Goodie Mob. So for me to work with them and finally get that level of production excellence was great. I thank God for the opportunity to work with them.
If you love Nappy Roots for who we are, you’re going to love every song on there. If you don’t know who Nappy Roots is, go back and checks us out. We’re not bad guys. We’re not lames in the game. We’re some cool individuals: we smoke weed, we drink, go to the frat parties, get drunk, kick it with college students as well as talk to kids about going to college. We give back to the community and speak about things everyday people can relate to.
Calvin: I have a quote from Rico Wade (of Organized Noize) in which he calls you guys “the conscious of the south.” With this album, what kind of impact do you want to make from that perspective?
Skinny: Just trying to help it. We ain’t trying to take over this shit. There’s not a lot of room at the top and it’s very lonely at the top. I don’t care about being the number one best at anything. There are some guys that might dispute that in my own group. But for us, we’re cool doing 90 in the slow lane and whatever anyone thinks we are we are that and then some.
B Stille: I’m definitely going to challenge what my colleague just said about not trying to be the best at anything. There are certain things that Nappy Roots does that we are the best at. I think that was Rico was getting at when he called us the conscious of the south. When Nappy Roots is on that, we’re really hard to deal with and it’s our strongest leg to stand on because our music is just like regular life. We don’t front. We make down to earth music. We have a lot of those records on this album as well as party records as well as struggle music.
Calvin: Anything you want to leave us with?
Skinny: Yeah man. The album comes out September 27th. I encourage all you readers to check us out on Twitter or Facebook. If you’ve never heard of us, don’t be afraid to try something new. It’s not always about the fame with us. It’s about the love and about the success we have as individuals and as a group. We’re a family and movement.
B Stille: We’re coming to a city near you. Nappy Roots has been on the road ever since Watermelon, Chicken and Grits and we haven’t stopped touring, so come check us out.

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Interview w/ Kidz In The Hall: Senior Year


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In a rap climate where dance songs and drug tales are the norm, Kidz In The Hall are two Ivy Leaguers who managed to build a solid industry presence. Naledge and Double O are preparing the release of their fourth studio album,Occasion, and shooting a second season of their hit MTV reality show,“Here and Now”, proving that hip hop truly has unlimited origins. TWV caught up with the duo shortly before they departed to Europe to shoot footage for the show and discussed their new album, their relationship with super-producer Just Blaze and the importance of creative control.
The Well Versed: You’ve had your share of fans that were with you from the early stages, talk a little bit about your show on MTV and what that’s done for you as far exposure to a new audience.
Double O: I think what it does is solidify the idea of who we are. Sometimes you get the music but since we’re indie we don’t get a enough interviews to know who we are as individuals and as people. And that’s what we used the scenario for. For them to see we get out here and enjoy life and try to do what most people would do if they had the opportunity. That’s what it really did at the end of the day was give people a better understanding of us.
TWV: I understand you’re doing a second season, where are you filming?
Naledge: We leave for Europe on Monday. We shot the video with Bun B here and that will be a part of it too. It’ll be a little footage of us in New York but the majority it will be of us in Europe having fun, doing shows, and doing what we love to do.
Double O: We’re about to start filming on Monday (Nov. 14)
TWV: There are a lot of features on this album. Talk about what it was like working with so many artists.
Double O: It was actually pretty easy. On our second album there was a feature on basically every song because it was called “The In Crowd” so we wanted it to be a collaborative effort. So this was actually easier because we worked with people we really liked. It was a very collaborative effort.
TWV: Talk about your relationship with Just Blaze and how that has helped you as a producer.
Double O: The first and foremost thing with us was work ethic. When I first met Just it was like 2003 and he was really getting hits out with Freeway and all of those records. I would go hang out in his studio and just watch and observe. He’d be there until like 6 in the morning then I would have to get out and go to work and do it all over again.
I remember telling him one day I was like “I realize this is how you win.” You have to be firing on all cylinders until something happens. So that was really where it came in. I would really be sitting back and observing and if I really had question I’d ask. It definitely helped when early on I did a record with Freeway and I couldn’t get the sample cleared. So having a little bit of a connection with [Just Blaze] to be able to call people was bonus.
A lot of times young producers may not have those types of connections.
TWV: Naledge, what it’s like being able to work with Double O?
Naledge: It’s a great thing because of the type of producing. His style is not monolithic. You can listen to the album and you wouldn’t necessarily know that one person produced every song. He doesn’t really have a general style. And I think with hip hop critics there’s something they love about us or something they’ll be like “Aw, we don’t like.”
As an MC, it challenges me to be able to do any type of song I want to do. I can call and be like “Give me weird shit, give me some street shit, or something that sounds more electro.” I can tell him whatever. I think at this point working with him, us being on the same page makes things so much easier because we can just take an idea and execute.
TWV: I just moved to Chicago a short while ago and there’s a certain direction a lot of the music is going in. You have been able to establish a fan base without really sticking to the same formula a lot of artists are sticking to. How important has been for you two to stay creative and ahead of what every one else is doing?
Double O: I think the fact that we went to an Ivy League school and we’re not doing the same thing a lot of other people are doing is a testament to how we’ve tried to go against the grain. We feel the things we shouldn’t be doing. You see cats winning, and then see copycats of people that are winning. And they’re like “Oh, maybe if I copy that then we’ll be winning too.” So it’s much easier for cats to follow suit than to branch out on their own. I think because we’ve always been Indie we’ve never had to worry about someone coming down and saying, “Yo, you have to make these kind of records.” We’ve always had creative control and that’s made us better artists.
TWV: I’ve been hearing that a lot lately. Would you say that indie should be the route for artists to shoot for as opposed to seeking a deal?
Double O: Definitely. Especially now because you can make real money. You’re not going to be able to make real money as an unknown artist. You have to have some sort of movement and songs already done. You’re going to be an independent artist up until that point so you might as well do it right and be confident in what you’re doing so when that time does come, you don’t have to worry about selling out.
TWV: Naledge, I understand you’re working on your next solo project. How’s that coming along?
Naledge: I’m always making records. At the end of the day all records I make I kind of just put in a pool and certain records fit with what we (Kidz In The All) do and certain records don’t fit with what we do. So once we know what the album is going to be, sometimes I may take some and throw them in the solo pile and eventually I’ll through that pile and put them in a mixtape. But as far as doing a formal album, I’m thinking of doing something on my next birthday and just putting it out. If not, I may go to a label.
TWV: What can fans expect from the new album?
Naledge: It was real easy to make. We just let it flow. We didn’t have a true direction but we had a lot of fun and the records were inspired by the fun we were having and the energy we had at the time. We just made a conscious decision to make our good records. [There are] records that aren’t necessarily positive in terms of the traditional sense of some kind of preachy message but just positive in energy. Sometimes that’s the best way to be positive. We just wanted to take people’s minds off the negativity. Life is an occasion and everyday is an occasion.

Interview w/ Skyzoo: The Dream Chaser (Red Tag Society)


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Photo Credit : @JoexA

While hip-hop has gone through a variety of changes during this Internet era, artists like Skyzooprove that the basics like dope lyrics, excellent beat selection and consistency still go a long way. Following his stellar debut album, The Salvation and the critically acclaimed mixtape The Great Debater, Skyzoo dismisses the sophomore jinx with his new album A Dream Deferred. Skyzoo took a few minutes to talk to The Red Tag Society about his new album, his favorite clothing lines and the upcoming presidential debates.

Calvin: First of all congratulations on the release of A Dream Deferred yesterday. You’ve talked a lot about your appreciation for the Langston Hughes poem of the same name. What is it about the premise of dreams deferred that you feel resonates with your listeners, fans and the hood in general?

Skyzoo: With me, the poem was something I learned in school. I think anybody that came up in a certain period that was one of those things you had to read and learn. It really resonated with me when I first read that poem. When I started working on this album I went back to that poem. I thought of the title and all of the things I thought were being reflected in that poem represented the same state of mind I was in with the creation of this album. When I was writing this album, I said everything that I’m talking about is kind of what’s going on in this poem. So let me just use that and tie the two together and make it that much bigger.

Calvin: I was listening to a couple joints off The Salvation and it kind of had that same “what happens when things don’t turn out exactly how you planned” theme to it. Is that something that you saw in your own personal life?

Skyzoo: Yeah, I think that’s something that everyone deals with in life at some point. We all have a dream. The album isn’t about wanting to be a rapper. It’s more so about having aspirations overall. We all have this dream about who we want to become. What happens when you sacrifice for those things and throw caution to wind and just go? Sometimes the closer you get to it all, the more you realize that none of this dream is what you thought it would be. Like damn.

Calvin: Aside from of the concept of the album talk a little about the producers you worked with and the overall difference between The Salvation and A Dream Deferred.

Skyzoo: Well production wise, Illmind co-executive produced the album with me and kind of oversaw the creation of the album. Black Milk, Jahlil Beats, 9th Wonder, DJ Khalil, Focus, the list goes on. Then there’s some new people like Tall Black Guy, Eric G so it’s a mixture of Grammy winners and people you might not know about. But for me it’s really about the music telling a story regardless of the name that’s attached to the music and that’s why the names are always so diverse. Sometimes you’ll have these huge names and other times it’ll be someone you never in your life heard of.

Calvin: I heard in a recent interview that you were in the process of writing a book that will break down some of your lyrics, how’s that process coming along?

Skyzoo: It’s good, honestly it’s been a slow process at the moment because I’ve been in album mode and I’ve been working on the album so tough. So now that’s it’s done and out, I can focus on other things, the book is one of the things I’m really going to be able to throw 150% into.

Calvin: A lot of people compared your debut album The Salvation, with other debut classics such as Only Built 4 Cuban Links, Ready To Die, Reasonable Doubt and others, do you have any type of frustration seeing as how those artists were able to release those albums in a climate in which great rap and skill was appreciated on a more mainstream scale than it is now?

Skyzoo: I think it’s a little bit of both. I think that where we are nowadays in hip-hop in particular it’s in a good place because there’s options. You don’t have to only listen to the TV or the radio. So if you’re happy with everything that’s going on with the TV or the radio then you’re good. Enjoy it, support it and do what you do. If you’re not happy with the TV or the radio or you just want to add something to what you already deal with then you have the Internet. You go online and find artists you never heard of before. And there are artists building cult followings and hacking out shows without ever being on TV or the radio. I’m one of those artists. I’ve been on TV and radio but not to that extent so technically I’m one of those artists. Would it be nice for lyrics to matter like they did in the 90’s? Sure, but at the same time I don’t make music for the 90’s or old school ‘let’s take it back music.

Calvin: Popular culture has found its way into a lot of your lyrics and concepts, from album covers, to song titles….talk a little bit about how popular culture has influenced you.

Skyzoo: I grew up watching the Cosby Show and Good Times. I grew up learning about black popular culture. We watched A Different World, and Fat Albert as a kid. That stuff just sticks with me. SO when I make music I’m able to relate it and take a character like a Theo or a JJ and turn that into a story or a theme talking about myself. That’s really what that project was about but I’m able to make it relatable in the sense of Theo and J.J. and all of the pop culture references that we talked about.

Calvin: Looking forward, how have you defined success for Skyzoo the artist or the person?

Skyzoo: I think every situation is unique. I don’t think there’s one definition of success for everyone. Everyone has a different outlook and a different expectation of what success is. For me it’s definitely about money and making as much as you can make. But at the same time it’s about how you go about it. How much are you willing to give up? How much are you willing to go in as far as giving a piece of yourself. For me, the music my integrity. We all want to get money. The majority of my music is about making money. “Steel’s Apartment”, The Rage of Roemello”, these songs are all about making money. But they way I do it, it’s like the typical rapper on the radio. But yeah, to me success is about being as successful as I can financially and doing it with great music that’s going to stand the test of time.

Calvin: A lot of the people may have seen you endorse a number of clothing lines over the last few years what are a few of your favorites and why?

Skyzoo: Well with me it’s about what makes sense to me. So whether it’s the new hot wave or swag at the moment doesn’t mean I’m gonna buy every piece of it. Brand wise I like ALIFE a lot. I’m big on Supreme, RockSmith and Entree and things like that. But outside of the hip-hop brands so to speak I’m big into Comme Des Garcon, PRPS, Strivers Row Jeans and Polo of course being a Brooklynite.

Calvin: Not sure how much you keep up with politics, but considering this is debate season, it’s only right I ask how closely you follow.

Skyzoo: A little bit. I’m aware. I don’t claim to be a political person in the sense of knowing the whole who, what and why but I do respect it and I do appreciate it. I don’t really put politics in my music too much but I do know what we’re dealing with as a country, as culture and as a generation. But we all hope and pray that Obama gets another run. We’ll see what happens in November.

Buy “ A Dream Deferred ” via i-Tunes Today ! | Here.

Interview w/ M.O.P.: Steady Mashing


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Real music and real artists always stand the test of time. Brownsville, Brooklyn’s Mash Out Posse is no exception.  After penetrating pop culture with their smash hit “Ante Up” more than 10 years ago, the duo of Billy Danze and Lil Fame is still putting out quality music with a new album, Sparta, produced entirely by The Snowgoons, dropping later this month.  M.O.P. sat down with TWV’s Calvin Davis (@TheCalculation)  to discuss the album, their views on the current state of hip hop and what they’re doing to give back to up and coming unsigned artists.

The Well Versed: Let’s get right into the new album. How did you guys hook up with (production team) The Snowgoons?

Billy Danze:  That happened through the label. The Snowgoons have some type of deal withBabygrande Records. The owner of the label called and asked if we would be willing to possibly do a project with them. They sent over a massive amount of beats that were all hot, literally like 100 hundred beats.  So we were like “Fuck it.” They’re great producers so it was easy to put this thing together.

TWV: Fame, did you do any producing on this album?

Fame: Nah, The Snowgoons handled everything on this one. But I’m still doing my thing and after this album I’ll be back in the studio.

TWV: You guys have solo projects coming up, how are those coming along?

Billy: We got a lot of shit coming up. Towards the end of the month were going to start working on the next M.O.P. project. Then we’re going to start launching all the other shit we have from there. Fame has a project he’s working on with Termanology. So in 2012 we’re just going to flood it with M.O.P. shit.

TWV: Hip Hop is in a completely different space artistically than when M.O.P. last dropped, what are your views on the current state of the game?

Fame: I think the game needs a change right now. It needs some more boom bap.  Really I don’t care what the change is, it just needs a change, period. I’m tired of the same songs. Every artist makes the same goddamn songs.

Billy: It needs a change on strength that we’ve been traveling back forth to different cities for years and we know that there’s a ghetto and an underprivileged neighborhood everywhere.  We cater to that. Everybody ain’t dancing and having fun all day long.  We’re not partying all day long. We’re not chasing chicks all day long. So, niggas don’t want to hear that on records all day long. We put out the real and we’ll do that every time.

TWV: Seeing as how the radio is one of the main avenues responsible for giving us that constant party music, we have to go elsewhere to find other music. What artists are you feeling right now?

Billy: I’m fucking with Slaughterhouse

Fame: Yeah, I’m fucking with Royce real heavy right now and a couple of other cats. I can’t really go off the dome right now. But really? I prefer Reggae music, man. I don’t get too much into the hip-hop no more.

Billy: You got dudes saying they’re making music effortlessly right now. M.O.P.? We can do this because this is what we do. As an artist, kids look up to us. When we came up in the game, we looked up to artists and we wanted to do something that they were doing. We didn’t want to do exactly what they were doing though. We wanted to be rappers so we could showcase our skills. Now, everybody’s rapping the same. You go to the party for six hours and do the same dance, same tempo, same style of music and same concept.

Fame: I think these cats nowadays don’t have no shame. They just get on records and blatantly talk about shit they don’t got.

Billy: Like, how do you feel bragging about some shit that you don’t have? Then you get to the point where you’re making a video and you’re renting everything in the video and you still got to go back to the block in that beat up ass Honda Accord with this chick you calling your old lady and this is your real life.

TWV: I would rather see a video of an artist in that Accord…

Fame: (Laughs) But that’s what’s real though. I could fuck with that.

Billy: Those are the types of cats that stay have to stay in their own space.  So just let them stay in their own space and let us do us. We got the world coming to us.  Them niggas got small sections of small areas.

TWV: I noticed you guys were in Montreal and it’s clear that the people recognize what’s real and authentic which allows you to move around the way you do.

Billy: People like real people regardless of what you’re doing whether you’re a ball player, a rapper or even if you’re a fucking barber. People don’t like people talking down to them or like they’re better than them.

TWV: As most folks know, M.O.P. has been involved with some of the hottest labels in the game from Roc-A-Fella Records to G-Unit Records. Talk about your situation with Babygrade.

Billy: Well this is really just a project. We don’t have an actual deal with Babygrande. Right now, we don’t need a label to put out records. We put records out on our own, but since it’s a collaborative record and The Snowgoons do have a deal with them, we put it out over there. We could be on turkey and cheese records and since its real niggas everywhere you go, they’ll go out and get it.

TWV: M.O.P. has achieved a high level of mainstream success and penetrated pop culture in a sense, especially with “Ante Up” and I’ve even heard your ad-libs regularly on Sportscenter. Talk about being able to experience that while still keeping your music rooted in the streets.

Fame: When that “Ante Up” came out they tried to ban it so many places. And they didn’t even know record was about sticking up people. It was cool because we were still able to do us and allow other people to jump on board.

Billy:  It’s a good situation because when we first got in the game we were rapping hardcore around the time when the mayor of New York City was in the street with one of those (steamroller) joints crushing all the hardcore music.  We were like “Fuck that. This is what our people listen to so we gon’ do it.” The reason for M.O.P.’s success is, sadly again, there’s a ghetto everywhere in the world. My father was in the street; my grandfather and the older homies were in the street. The street never dies. They’re able to feel what we do and they appreciate it because we’re speaking for them. Without being able to communicate to our people and for our people we would have never been heard because people don’t want us telling the truth on these records.

TWV: Speaking of records, what can fans expect from this Sparta album?

Billy:  Man, high energy. Sparta is arguably the best project that we’ve put out in the last seven years. We got the title track “Sparta,” “Break Em” “Opium” all with high energy but we also got joints you almost cool out to. Almost. We’re basically in a good music recession so we got to change that. We’re passing a bill now like all the bullshit has to stop.

TWV: Any other projects for us to be on the lookout for?

Billy: Also for all the unsigned artists out there, M.O.P. is definitely giving back. We created the We Build Hits website.  Unsigned artists can work with producers like Fame A.K.A. Fizzy WomackD.R. PeriodPete Rock9th Wonder, Easy Mo BeeHeatMakerz…we got 25 huge producers that’s down to give these unsigned artists a shot and give them the same caliber of production that they gave M.O.P.

TWV: That’s a great look, how did you get started with that?

Billy: Basically just sitting around. We’ve been here for a while and we’ve had the opportunity to be around some people who’ve made a lot of money in this game.

We would sit around and they would all say how they’re going to help somebody when they get their shit together. But the truth of the matter is they haven’t done anything for anybody. So we decided that this is a way to help each other. You know there’s a dude on every corner that could rap circles around some of these rappers but nobody knows so because no one gives them a chance. So withWeBuildHits.com what we do is take a dude from Chicago and throw him on a track. Then take a dude from Canada and dude from Germany and throw them all the same track and create three way cross promotion. It’s really like cheating because we’re using a platinum, Grammy winning producer.

Interview w/ 88-Keys: Hip Hop in the Key of Life


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Hip-hop is an ever-evolving genre that is always in search of the new and hot thing, especially when it comes to sound. Longevity in hip hop has only been achieved by a select few producers. But with production featured on albums ranging from the classic Mos Def and Talib Kweli‘s Blackstar to last summer’s monumental Watch The Throne, 88-Keys has proven that he is among hip hop truly great producers. In 2008 the New York native made his emcee debut with Death Of Adam. Now, after founding Locksmith Music, 88 is adding label executive to his list of contributions to the culture. I caught up with 88 and discussed, among other things, the post Watch The Thone reaction to his sound, his thoughts on the proposed SOPA bill and his relationship with the late great J. Dilla.

Calvin: Talk a little bit about the idea behind Locksmith Music; the name and what you hope to accomplish musically.

88-Keys: The name Locksmith Music was the name of my former production company which I incorporated back in 1997. The first placement for that company was my work (‘Thieves In The Night”) on Blackstar’s album. It wasn’t until recently that I decided to start my own label and dissolved that incorporation and was able to retain that name and turn it into an LLC. I started the able to both help artists that I found who were dope and also to start building a brand for myself.

Calvin: I understand that you met the artists that you signed through Twitter and SoundCloud submissions.

88-Keys: Well, I had an idea for my next album to be a compilation of unsigned artists. Initially the idea was to have 13 different acts on an album entirely produced by myself. So I put out a casting call…and specifically asked people not to send their own music…just an email inquiry.

Calvin: Basically just saying they’re interested…

88 Keys: Exactly. A simple “How can I be down” or “I rap, what do I do know” is all I was looking for. Hundreds of people couldn’t follow simple instructions but that’s a whole other subject (laughs). That would be an interview about Generation X. A lot of rappers weren’t nearly as great as they claimed to be and there were just a handful that I rounded down to 13 acts…and eventually five. The five that I kept were the ones I started building a rapport with. Hearing them sharpen their skills and hit me with joints every week, I started thinking about what I would do next. It’s interesting because the time I wasn’t even really fucking with Hip-Hop. I wasn’t tuning in to the blogs to hear a bunch of wack rappers getting their songs posted every three or four days and eventually develop followings because they’re being posted four or five times a week. Then the audience gets gassed like these cats are dope when, in my opinion, they’re far from dope. They’re just okay rappers who got exposure. So I wasn’t buying into that. To get my hip hop fix I would just resort to playing A Tribe Called Quest, the original Slum Village. But as I’m hearing these cats (Locksmith artists) music, they’re getting me excited again. So there are really dope artists out there, they’re just not making it to the blogs for whatever reason. One night we had a magical session where recorded eight songs in one night and they all came out dope. That’s when it reaffirmed for me that I needed to start my own label and sign these dudes.

Calvin: So how did you feel about the response to the mixtape?

88-Keys: The mixtape I’ve been talking about this whole time hasn’t even come out yet. The mixtape that I did put out is called 88-Keys Presents Locksmith Music. That’s basically the warm-up. That was a compilation of material that I gathered from them well before I thought to sign them. The Source magazine actually premiered and it kind of went everywhere after that.

Calvin: So on that mixtape we’re basically hearing the music that you heard that got you excited about them?

88-Keys: Right.

Calvin: Coming from an artist and producer perspective, what type of challenges do you find yourself facing as a label executive?

88-Keys: I’m brand new to being a label but I’m not new to dealing with labels. Plus I’m doing everything on my own hands on. As far as the challenges, it’s a combination of people not paying attention especially younger fans. They’re so computer and technically savvy but it’s like they’re losing their common knowledge. Say for instance I put out a tweet saying “Yo, make sure you download my new mixtape” if I don’t put the link right there in that tweet, cats will be like “Where can I find it?” And I’m like…the Internet (laughs).

Calvin: That’s funny because I was checking out your timeline on Twitter yesterday and you had a back forth discussion that started out being about SOPA and kind of transitioned into a broader conversation about the internet and amateurism. Do you view the net as a gift and a curse?

88-Keys: Absolutely. It’s crazy you caught that (laughs). As you saw, his initial tweet to me about SOPA. He was responding to something he read on my Formspring where someone asked me about SOPA and my response was like although I know very little about it, but the little that I saw was that it was the government’s attack on piracy and intellectual property. But all of people on Twitter were panicking like “Oh, YouTube and Twitter are going to get shut down.” And I’m not jumping off a bridge if that happens. If Wikipedia shuts, oh well. I guess cats will just starting getting library cards again or actually talking to girls face to face. Maybe folks will be more active and fight obesity. But back to the bill itself, and granted I haven’t read it in full, but if this is a step toward stopping mufuckas’ from illegally downloading not only my music but any artist who works hard and this is their livelihood….i’m for it.

Calvin: At a roundtable a few years ago Young Guru spoke about kids not having common experiences attached to their consumption of music due in part to the internet.

88-Keys: They absolutely don’t. And actually feel bad for them because they don’t get a chance to really fall in love with the music they like. Growing up, I would buy two or three albums that would last me almost nine months And those were the only songs I ‘d listen to for that nine months until some new shit comes out. I wasn’t getting bombarded with new shit everyday with one song here and one song there. I had my Tribe shit, I’m listening to their album everyday to the point the whole album is seeping into my soul. Then I’d move on to a Cypress Hill or whatever. And if you make dope music I have no problem giving up eight dollars for some work that people put their soul into.

 

Calvin: As a fan, I truly believe Death Of Adam is one of the great, complete concept albums in hip hop. Do you stress to your artists the value of making complete albums?

88-Keys: It’s funny because I don’t have to stress that to my artists so much because that’s what they want to do anyway. For me, not every album has to tell a story, but it should have some cohesiveness. I’m not a fan of albums where every track is produced by a different producer with a completely different sound. For me it doesn’t gel. As opposed to a Pete Rock and C.L. Smooth album where Pete Rock does all the production. I’m down for consistency.

Calvin: Obviously you had a relationship with Kanye prior to your work on Watch The Throne, but talk about how it felt having your music on a project as big as that.

88-Keys: It didn’t really hit me until seeing my song trending for two days straight after the debut. All that stuff still hasn’t really hit me yet. I’m just noticed that the industry as far as the suits have their ear turned to me and are starting to be more receptive to my sound. My whole thing is that I’m not going to deviate from my sound…I’ll enhance it but I’m not going to change it. Like back when Lil Jon was winning and his sound was all over the radio…producers that I personally know switched up and went out and got keyboards and completely ran with that style just to get a check. I’m making beats to make money as well, but I’m not going to forfeit what I love.

Calvin: So, what’s next for Locksmith Music and what’s coming up in the next few months?

88-Keys: I signed five artists (Nemo Achida from Lexington, KY x Robert Akins III from Daphne, AL Tre DeJean from Arlington, TX Little Vic from Long Island, NY x Mann 95 from Hartford , CT) and right now collectively we have the 88-Keys Presents Locksmith Music out, which is available for download. We just released a rough draft of a Little Vic song called “Yeah Aight Though.” I’ve reached out to Action Bronson because I’d like him to jump on there if possible. The next project will be a mixtape with Mick Boogie called “Ready Set.” I’m producing the whole thing top to bottom . After that we’re working on all the artist’s individual mixtapes and from there we want to release the Green Light Means Go album which I want to shop for a distribution deal.

 

Father Stretch My Hands Pt. 1


 

It’s been a minute since I was excited about Kanye West releasing new music. Watch The Throne was probably the last. I’ve been a  Kanye fan since 2000 when I saw he produced “This Can’t Be Life” on Jay Z’s The Dynasty: Roc La Familia  so I will always want him to drop classics as often as possible but recently I’ve employed my fall back game when it comes to the release of random singles.

I’m not about to front today like I was supered geeked about The Life of Pablo. Truth be told, I wasn’t going to believe  ‘Ye was dropping an album until it was playing on my Beats headphones through whichever streaming service (Tidal in this case) had first rights.

I woke up Sunday morning reading tweets, Facebook statuses and Instagram posts about a return of the old Kanye and I got excited. Don’t me wrong though, I’m a firm believer in Hov’s “Nigga’s want my old shit, buy my old album” credo. I love when artists grow, experiment and transition. Selfishly though, in my Kanye fandom, I’ve longed for a return to the newness that was Kanye in the early 2000s.

Whether that longing proves to be a pipe dream is yet to be discovered but whatever happens,  I’ll always have “Father Stretch My Hands Pt. 1.”

While I find it foolish to label an album classic after one day of listening, my philosophy on grading songs allows for a shorter review time. The formula is simple: if after two back to back spins (four in a row) I still want more…it’s a classic son.

So that’s what “Father Stretch My Hands Pt. 1” is.

First things first — the sample; a jazzy rendition of  “Father I Sretch My Hands” led by Pastor T.L. Barrett supported by an energetic children’s choir. I mean, I know I haven’t been in church in a stretch but I don’t remember the songs sounding this good. Typical gospel songs are heavy on the vocals and rather light on the instrumentation but Barrett’s version of this song is quite soulful.

The samples lives for about 16 seconds before it gives way to a beautiful buildup facilitated by the voices of the children’s choir. Future’s voice let’s two things be known: 1) Metro Boomin’ was involved in thus process and 2) your ears are about to receive audio blessings.

Then the beat drops.

Victory.

Fight the temptation to get over consumed in the beat and appreciate this Kid Cudi appearance for a second; it’s been a while.

Then there’s Kanye who just wants to feel liberated. I’ll let his lyrics speak for themselves.

I’ll revisit a review of the entire album after more digestion. For now, this song will continue to be played at ignorant levels each morning.

*New Mixtape* Dom Kennedy – The Yellow Album


If for some reason you’re still sleep on Dom Kennedy you need to rewind yourself to 2008 and do your homework. But for those of you who are up to speed with the homie, this is the album he talked about during his tour if you caught that. The single “My Type of Party”  is already my personal summer anthem and this mixtape has a few of those caliber joints on it. Appearances from Too $hort, Rick Ross, Freddie Gibbs and Kendrick Lamar.

The coolest shit out ain’t the radio folks.

Dom Kennedy – The Yellow Album

It’s Rules To This Shit…NBA Playoff Edition


You’re probably wondering like “Why is this nigga writing a playoff edition of the rules three weeks after the playoffs started?” That’s a good question with a simple answer: the Lakers are in trouble, nigga. I really wanted to write this joint after that Game 2 debacle in Oklahoma City but I decided to chill. Unlike the thousands of heathens that bombarded Steve Blake’s mentions after he missed that game winning shot. Or the ones that destroyed Pau Gasol’s mentions in two different languages after that weak ass pass in Game 4.

But it all seriousness we have bigger issues to address.  You niggas truly need to learn how to be fans. So I put together a few joints for you to look over before we get to the NBA Finals.

5. Never stop talking shit: There’s a saying in sports: if you’re going to go down,  go down swinging. We’re fans though, so just substitute ‘swinging’ with talking shit. If it’s the 2nd quarter and your team is down 15…keep talking/tweeting. Trust me there’s nothing worse than giving up on your team before halftime only to see them make a glorious comeback in the second half. I don’t care if it’s late in the game you see niggas leaving their seats to hop in their whips…keep the tweets coming. If they lose, you’re a fan that kept the faith. If they win, you just earned yourself the right to use all caps in your victory tweets. Duke was down 10 on the road at UNC earlier this year. I never stopped talking and was rewarded with this Austin Rivers walk-off three-pointer. Plus, when the post-game tweeters start saying shit like “Laker (or insert your team here) fans real quiet,” you can easily direct them to your unwavering timeline of stick-to-itiveness.

4. Stop Hating Kobe: I know this a pretty biased rule but this is my blog fam. Let me clear some shit for you niggas, especially you Heat fans. I. Don’t. Hate. LeBron. I just think it’s extremely bad form for people to consistently compare him to Kobe. Kobe’s been the best player in the league since around the year 2000 or so. Not to mention he’s got more rings than any other player in the NBA right now. And just so we’re clear, i’m not going to list a bunch of Kobe’s old accomplishments here. Let’s talk about how he led the league in scoring all season until a late season injury put Kevin Durant in the driver seat by less than a tenth of a point. He’s a consummate professional whose will to win is never in question. He’s got the best footwork in the game and even though he’s 14 years older than some players in the league he consistently outperforms. When asked about comparisons, Jordan says Kobe is the only player who deserves to be mentioned. Respect him.

3. Cool Chics Watch Hoop: Even on some NBA shit I’ll find a way to recognize the women. Yeah ladies I see y’all. Nothing sexier than seeing tweets on the timeline from chics about bad calls by referees, clutch shots from Kobe or ugly player facial expressions. I mean, I don’t hate you chics that hate sports, I just know for a fact it’s cooler when a chic genuinely enjoys a good game. We don’t even have to be fans of the same team. Actually it’s better that way because the bets can get very interesting. Nevermind that though, I hate chics who refuse to get with sports just for the sake of not conforming. Then they want to look down on chics who watch with their dudes as if they sold out or some shit. I never understood that. Anyway, S/O to all you the ladies that know how many fouls it takes to be in the bonus.

2. Stick With Your Team: Yo, if you ride with the Knicks and the Knicks lose 4-1 in the first round…you don’t have a team in the playoffs anymore. You can still comment on other games. You can even still have a team you’d rather see win. But you can’t celebrate when a team that isn’t YOUR team wins a game. It’s just not right. Get your loyalty game together. That said, even though I’m a Laker fan…if the Thunder beat Miami in the Finals i’m celebrating. Fuck it.

1. Go Lakers. Ha. 

That’s it. I had to get this shit out before the Lakers season ended or else I might not have written it.