My Interviews

Diggy Simmons Interview (Featured on 9/2/11)


[Interview] 88-Keys: Hip Hop In The Key Of Life

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.

The Well Versed: 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.

TWV: 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.

TWV: 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.


Tags: 88-Keys

Calvin DavisAbout post author

Calvin Davis is a Chicago based writer who originally hails from Gary, Indiana. He has worked in public relations for the National Safety Council and the WNBA. You can follow him on Twitter:@thecalculation or his blog: The Calculation.

Nappy Roots Interview (Featured on 8/9/11)

It’s been nearly 10 years since Nappy Roots burst onto the mainstream scene with 2002’s Watermelon, Chicken & Grits and the 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.

Kurupt Interview (Featured on 8/2/11)

West coast legend Kurupt has been behind the scenes grinding as of late. In between working on his solo project and an internet TV show, the DPG veteran executive produced one of the largest compilation albums ever, The Academy, which features an artist list ranging from platinum artists to underground staples. I was able talk with Kurupt about The Academy project, up and coming west coast artists as well as the legendary Nate Dogg. Hit the jump for our interview with Kurupt.

Calvin: Let’s get right into it big homie. Looking at the press release for The Academy, I’m seeing 55 artists. What was the idea behind it?

Kurupt: Real thing is Pac, before he passed away, was doing something with the east coast and west coast all connected. I hooked up with M-Eighty and T3 and we made it the best that we could. I mean you got the greatest of all. I mean, you got Kurupt and Raekwon together. Can’t beat that.

Calvin: Is this your first time wearing the executive producer hat?

Kurupt: I’ve been there plenty of times. That’s my thing; I executive produced every single one of my solo albums. This is what I do baby!

Calvin: What kinds of challenges did you come across producing a project like this as opposed to one of your solo joints?

Kurupt: Well, you know you have to handle the business and make sure everybody is taken care of. That’s what I love about M- Eighty and T3 because they made sure everybody’s business was straight and that’s what you got to do. Executive production is overseeing everything and that’s what I want to bring to the table and I agree with everything M-Eighty and T3 brought to the table. It requires discipline.

Calvin: The artist list is very diverse, with names ranging from superstars like Method Man and Redman to veterans like Raekwon and Styles P. I’m from Gary, Indiana and I see you have an artist like like Rusty Redenbacher [of the Mudkids] from Indianapolis on the album.


Kurupt: What you know about him?

Calvin: A cool chick put me on to him.

Kurupt: He’s trump tight.

Calvin: So, you keep your ear to the underground heavy?

Kurupt: I’ll tell you the real and I ain’t even gonna play no games. I’m so far away from the underground since my success has been on a more mainstream level. Even though I am still underground — I’m a murderer on the mic. But as far as the underground that’s cracking right now, I’m a little out of pocket I can’t lie. But M-Eighty and T3 showed me so many things as far as indie artists that are doing different things.

This album is not just about east and west or north and south. This album is about new artists and original artists coming together as one to make something incredible. You can’t beat that.

Calvin: As a west coast legend, how do you feel about the how some of the newer artists like Dom Kennedy, Kendrick Lamar and Nipsey Hussle have been representing the west.

Kurupt: Oh, I love it. I love it. Everybody you’re talking about are my folks. And not just because they’re my folks but because they worked their way into this game. Every artist you named from Nipsey to Dom to my fucking Watts murderer Kendrick; we were there when they first got it cracking. They’ve all blossomed to become great emcees of the west coast. Those are emcees not rappers and you can’t deny them. From Jay Rock, Glasses [Malone] and Crooked I of course. Crooked is one of the originals like Tray Dee, who was the West Coast Rakim to me.

Calvin: You were just in France at the Cannes Festival with Snoop, Jimmy Iovine and Dr. Dre. How’s it feel being with pretty much the same crew and being able to still be here?

Kurupt: Oh, you seen that? It’s crazy seeing Jimmy now, you know. He gave us our start to our careers. He and Interscope, they invested their time, their energy and their money in Death Row. So Jimmy is a key factor and him being there was immaculate to me. He was there in support. Dr. Dre was there and they love us all so much — it was rare form. It was one of the biggest things ever. These are the original things that made it happen here. You had Dr. Dre, Jimmy Iovine, Rage, Tha Dogg Pound and Snoop. You can’t beat that. That’s the original formula, my guy. And it takes a lot to get Jimmy out the house.

Calvin: I couldn’t help but peep on your Twitter that you’re in the studio doing work, you also reached out to 9th Wonder…. you got a project coming up?

Kurupt: Yes I do. I got a project. I have an Internet show coming out called “Kurupted Up Top.” I got a lot of things coming up that are going to hit them on top of the head. I just did a new movie; we got the Dogg Pound movie going down. We’re touching film and we’re touching recording so it’s all gravy.

Calvin: One of my personal favorites of yours was your verse from “Xxplosive” off Dr. Dre’s 2001. Can you talk about the response you’ve gotten off that verse over time and has it been a crowd favorite?

Kurupt: I end all my shows and DPG shows with “Xxplosive.” “Xxplosive” is the total representation of the West Coast. R.I.P to my big bro Nate Dogg.

Calvin: Absolutely.

Kurupt: There’s nobody like him. Nate Dogg is one of a kind and was always that until the day that he died. Not just because of his music, but because of who he was to us as a person. Nate Dogg, Snoop and Warren G basically raised us. And Nate Dogg was one of the main people who spoke about real life, getting where you need to be and positivity. You can’t beat that from a man like that. Nate is a forefather to us. We’d follow Nate until the wheels fall off. And all Nate gave us was good game about good life and how to be great in life as well as music. So, “Xxplosive” is just a different record. When I end it with that the whole west coast is at peace and harmony.

Calvin: Well that was pretty much my last question big homie. Anything else you’d like to leave us with?

Kurupt: We’re all in this together. It’s not about east coast, west coast, north or south. We’re all in this as one. Knock it off.


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