music writer

Yelawolf Interview

Yelawolf Interview

In 2011, Yelawolf was on a victory run. The half-Cherokee rapper born Michael Wayne Atha had escaped a dangerous career in deep-sea fishing, weeks of homelessness and being dropped from Columbia by Rick Rubin to prove he was rap’s next big star. Atha had raw talent and could rhyme over any style of music, even embracing his country roots without coming across as yet another novelty act. Trunk Muzik released the year prior had amassed a huge online following and Eminem quickly signed Yelawolf as one of the first acts on the newly revived Shady Records. Spirits were understandably high when he told XXL in an interview that year: “I can tell you that when you’re willing to give your life up to see a dream through, the reward is great. And now that I’ve become an apprentice to one of the greatest artists in the world, my potential reaches beyond anything I ever imagined.”

Unfortunately his debut album Radioactive never delivered on his potential. Atha sounded misplaced on several tracks containing uncomfortable collaborations, uninspired beats and forced crossover attempts, later admitting he had given up creative control to his formerly trusted production company. In 2012 he suffered a ruptured spleen during a performance in Wisconsin and was placed in the Intensive Care Unit, an accident that he credits for putting his life under renewed focus. Determined to put out a project that his fans deserved, Yelawolf released the Trunk Muzik Returns mixtape last year. He spent the latter half of 2013 recording his second LP in a secluded Nashville studio with only a few close collaborators. During our interview we talked about the recording process this time around, convincing Big Boi to let him rap, working with Eminem and which “Box Chevy” chapter is his favourite. Recharged and shaking off the ghost of Radioactive, Yelawolf is convinced sophomore album Love Story will continue his return to form. I for one believe him.

Passionweiss Top 50 Albums of 2014

Here's my two pieces from the Passionweiss Top 50 albums. Read the rest here, there's some quality writing on that thing.

49. Gangsta Boo and Beatking – Underground Cassette Tape Music

The speaker-knocking result of two renowned hard-asses combining their vulcanized fury, Underground Cassette Tape doesn’t fuck around. Memphis OG Gangsta Boo and Houston’s father of the year, Beatking, have laced this project with 15 bangers you can suplex #sadboys to. As Torii MacAdams said, it’s both unexpected and awesome to see the Triple Six Mafia’s former first lady catch a deserved second wind as one of the baddest MCs in the game. Props also due to Beatking for assembling top-notch production with a crew of relatively unknown beat chefs.

Underground Cassette Tape Music feels more like a studio album than a random assortment of mix tape tracks, and that’s largely due to the consistently speaker-crumpling beats. The guests are on point too: Paul Wall calls himself Slab God, 8 Ball delivers a brief sermon next to a Pimp C sample, and OJ Da Juiceman slurs sweetly. But it’s the natural chemistry between Beatking and Boo that makes this the de facto anthem for any exotic dancer worth a damn.

19. Migos – No Label II

With No Label 2, Migos proved “Versace” wouldn’t be their last heater to rock the bando. A sequel to their 2012 mix tape, the gold-obsessed trio stick to their unlicensed guns with more tales from the hood twilight-zone. Delivered in staccato, each line a repeatable phrase for the ADD listener. Migos continue to expand their delivery past rapping in triplets, but anyone familiar with the gonzo hood scholars should expect regular references to Motorola cell phones and infinite shouted ad-libs.

Quavo & Co. recently added “repeat hit makers” to their trap resume, producing plug-endorsed bangers, “Fight Night” and “Handsome and Wealthy.” The latter shows Migos tiptoeing into melodic hooks, which are also present on the popular “Freak no More” and the Zaytoven produced, “Add It Up.” Of course, it helps that they enlisted a production hit squad including the always-hungry Metro Boomin, 808 mobster Honorable C Note, and frequent collaborator, Phenom Da Don.

Using a hectic schedule modelled after Gucci Mane who was previously managed by current boss, Coach K, the trio have already released follow up, Rich Nigga Timeline. The quality of the two is comparable, but No Label 2 took them from from luxury garment name-droppers to new Atlanta’s very own John, Paul and George. At 25 tracks long, No Label 2 isn’t designed for a single headphone session unless you have a superhuman resistance to listener’s fatigue. Instead, condense your favorites into one riot-inducing mix and you’ll have suburban moms tweaking before you can say, “In the trap with two guns like I’m Tomb Raider.” 

B. Bravo Interview

Originally published on Myspace

Conjuring images of smoky discothèques, groovy roller discos and uninhibited dance-offs, this L.A. producer with a rich musical background creates undeniable boogie jams.

NAME: B. Bravo

HOMETOWN: Monterey, Calif.

HOMEBASE: Los Angeles, Calif.

B. Bravo's cosmic grooves and talk-box experimentation push the boundaries of funk while spreading the positive vibes of a far from gone genre. The LA based producer's natural progression toward intergalactic tunes was partly stimulated by the G-Funk sound of 90s rap and he continues to be inspired by the forefathers of funk. Bravo has graced Red Bull's Music Academy and he keeps busy working with production partner Teeko as well as playing sax and keys in San Francisco band Bayonics.

What drew you to funk music?

I remember going to the Monterey Jazz Festival when I was a kid in school and Tower of Power were playing there. The reason they stood out to me was that they were so different than all the other acts. Everybody was sitting down for the other performances. They [Tower of Power] were just like this powerhouse and they had this horn section with a driving beat. Everybody just jumped on their feet and started dancing. It was an instant reaction, everybody was dancing even like the security guard. I remember seeing my friend's dad just dancing and smiling. I was just like "wow what is this? This is crazy." I was like "what are these sounds?" Just the feeling and the energy they created was totally different so that was one of my first experiences seeing it live.

Have you played with any of your personal funk heroes?

Years ago, back in the Bay Area, my band Bayonics were playing on KPFA Radio in Berkeley. George Clinton came in the studio with his bass player named Thumpasauras Rex. We got a chance to meet George and talk with him, and we ended up jamming all together in the studio. That was pretty epic; this must have been in probably 2005. It was pretty crazy, the whole time we were kind of looking at each other like, "Woah man. This is insane." I remember he had the thickest, manliest hands I'd ever shook, it was like grabbing on a tree branch or something.

A large part of classic funk and soul music was related to the struggles of Black America. Did you find it hard to relate to that growing up?

Myself growing up, I wasn't necessarily from a poor family. My dad was actually from a really poor family in Japan, so he basically came to the States with nothing in the late 70s and so through his stories I've known a lot of that- the struggle of making your own way and being your own man. The area that I grew up in was definitely working class, but I think it's a universal message. Funk music was originally made by people in the struggle, whether it would be race, economics or class.

Do you see funk regaining the same relevance it had in the '70s and '80s?

I mean a lot of people are like, "Oh you guys are bringing back funk. It's a like dead genre." I don't really see that. It transcends through a lot of different genres to me. I don't know whether there's going to be top 40 funk songs or not. I'm not sure if that's where it's heading, but I don't think that's really the aim. The aim is to spread the message to people. We're not trying to make pop music. We're trying to make music that will touch people and uplift people, give them something they need in the world that they're not really getting from other sources.

You've collaborated with Salva and released music under his label, how did that happen?

He's the one that really got me started releasing music as a solo artist. We met at this regular job in software. This was in about 2007. He hired me to work for him and on my resume it said I had an interest in music and DJing. We got to talking and we were listening to each other's music. He was like, "I want to create a label and release some music; do you want to do something?" So I put together an EP and that was kind of my first solo release. That's what started everything for me. He's right here in L.A. so we've been working on stuff together and that's my main man.

Kevin Gates - By Any Means review

kevin gates by any means

By me and originally written for Passionweiss

Heavily inked, emotionally scarred and fresh out of the slammer, Kevin Gates returns with 16 bi-polar bangers. By Any Means is less personal than last year’s Stranger Than Fiction and The Luca Brasi Story, but the Louisiana’s rappers remains one of the best young gangsta rappers this side of the Mississippi. Gates has the hooks, the singing, the story and the passion. Of course, it helps that he’s been blessed with the rare combination of versatile vocal chords and awareness of how to use them. From his threatening croak on standout “Homicide” to the palpable sincerity on “Movie,” KG is as far removed from one-dimensional MCs as it gets.

The 28 year old also defies the tradition that rappers need to be invincible. His willingness to showcase flaws is a large part of what makes his music compelling. Gates covers depression, anxiety, self-doubt and a slew of other pitfalls rarely touched on in rap. Add in his penchant for including vivid real life details from his turbulent past and you’ve got a killer combo. Whether it’s because he’s attempting to make a mainstream friendly project or because he’s saving material so that the relentless mixtape circuit doesn’t end in creative burn out, these details aren’t quite as apparent on this record as they were on his 2013 output. There are no epic tales of attempted murder by best friends like “4.30am” or cinematic true-life tales of crime ala “iHop” on here. You’ve got to listen a little closer, but it’s worth the effort.

 Gates adds humanity to what could have been a generic hustling theme on “Wish I Had.” Instead of lazily attributing his motivation to the American Dream aka wanting to get rich, he phrases the chorus in a more relatable way and it takes on a redemptive quality. “Out my window, I see everything I dream about and wish I had.” During the song, he also acknowledges his self-consciousness at being a two-time felon, desperately wanting to write a hit and being a good person that can transform in the wrong circumstances.

Later on “Sposed to Love” there’s more mention of this duality of character and the imperfection he’s willing to display on record. Gates is passionately in love and deeply offended when his partner doesn’t answer the phone, but he’s also bordering on the obsessive and admits to hitting her in the heat of the moment. The realistic portrayal of domestic violence undoubtedly makes it the most divisive track on the album. Some listeners may feel he’s condoning this behavior as he comes across as cocky rather than apologetic, but references to Chris Brown, stalking and jail make it clear he’s aware of his moral wrongdoing.

Musical psychoanalysis aside, this tape is also trunk rattling. Get Em Gates understands the quandaries presented by turning down for no good reason. As one of the chosen few who isn’t overshadowed by Juicy J and 2 Chainz on his own jams, he can rap with the best from planet Versace. Despite his currently unproven mainstream appeal, “Don’t Know” and “Arm And Hammer” have the type of hypotonic hooks you’ll find yourself accidently reciting during work meetings or on the subway. Along with his chameleon vocals and a healthy dose of neuroticism, part of what makes Gates listenable is his varied delivery style. He’ll switch flow several times, moving within seconds from Migos inspired double-time to shouting threats down your ear canal.

With a hulking audio presence, Gates doesn’t need to rely on features and thankfully he hasn’t succumbed to this cheap tactic. For the most part, the guests are used sparingly and fit in nicely. The late Doe B in particular shines with his effortless flow during “Paranoid,” making it all the more obvious the world was robbed of the 22 year old’s potential. Then of course, there’s Plies. He doesn’t quite ruin “Keep Fucking With Me” by spitting a marble mouthed verse, but he definitely comes close.

 Being locked up on a three-year gun charge partially derailed Gates’ career during the mid-2000s. But he also claims long periods in jail gave him the opportunity to form his unique rhyming style. In an interview with HipHop Dx, he said prison changed his attitude toward music too “I want the Rap game when I come home. You never know how much something means to you until you can’t do it. “Personal issues have made him both great and imperfect. Few have a darker past than Kevin Gates, but few have a brighter future.

Wu Tang Interview - U God


By Jimmy Ness and originally written for Passionweiss.

Lamont Jody Hawkins is better known by his rap alias U-God, but it’s the “Four Bar Killer” nickname that has defined his career. Wu Tang’s mastermind RZA treated each member of the iconic group like a chess piece and used their individual strengths in a specific way while recording their early work. Unfortunately for U-God, this meant that his gruff voice was used sparingly and he often had to make the most of spitting a quick four bars before it was someone else’s turn.

Hawkins, who never had a fully produced RZA solo album like several other members, has often expressed his bitterness at being delegated to being a pawn in the Wu strategy. He left the group in 2004, recorded this documentary, and attempted to sue RZA for $170,000.

However, childhood friends often fight like brothers and the members have reconnected. U-God rejoined Wu Tang shortly after leaving and his 2009 solo LP “Dopium” was well received. Hawkins also released the new album, The Keynote Speaker on July 23, while Wu Tang is embarking on a 20th Anniversary tour during the next few months. 

Despite his reputation for a bad temper and history of being unspoken during interviews, U-God was relatively guarded over the phone and he gave many one-word answers. However, we did chat about his introduction to rap, being around Ol’ Dirty Bastard, stepping away from the “Four Bar Killer” title and of course the new Wu Tang album.

When you first got started you were beatboxing for Cappadonna?

Yeah that’s true. I’m a superb beatboxer. Superior beatbox specialist heh heh. I still do it every now and then.

Who is Scotty Wotty? He’s on some of your most recent solo work and Ghostface famously mentions him on “Nutmeg.”

Well, Scotty Wotty was like my mentor in rhyming. He knew me since I was a baby, he was the first dude in the hood who was really nice, who was close to us and could really rhyme. I came and got him back, came and found him and dug him up and put him out there. But you know, he’s still got it.

You also knew Raekwon since you were children and your parents were friends?

Yeah, his mother and my mother lived in the same building in Brooklyn, East New York. We all migrated over to Staten Island at about the same time.

Is it true you were playing with a loaded gun and nearly shot him when you were kids?

(laughs) I can’t believe you said that man. Yeah, yeah little kid stuff. Wow, I can’t believe ya’ll are still talking about that.

Your uncle helped introduce you to rap?

He used to go to Harlem World and bring me back little tapes of the battles that were going on back at the stage when I was a little kid, and you know, kind of got me into hip-hop.

You went to jail for almost three years around the time that 36 Chambers was being recorded, but before that you put yourself through college for a few years off drug money?

That’s right. I studied Business Management.

Was there a point during Wu Tang’s earlier years, where you suddenly thought “wow we’ve got something special?”

Yeah you know, in the beginning when we all started doing it. It wasn’t when we blew up. I already knew what my brothers were capable of doing before we became Wu Tang. I had a pre-determined, pre-meditated situation where I already knew. It was like a business.

There’s an interesting quote from you where you said “I can talk about Wu Tang, but don’t let me hear anyone else talk about them. That’s my family.”

Exactly (laughs) no comment on that.

ODB remains one of the most unique characters that has ever existed in hip-hop. What was it like being around him?

Well you know that’s family man. He might be Wu and ODB, and wild and stuff, but to me that’s my brother man. It ain’t nothing. It’s like Meth, that’s my family too but people be going crazy when the see the dude, and I be like tsk maaaan that’s my fam. It’s like he’s special, but he’s not that special like ya’ll would see him. But I love my brothers man.

Looking back on your career, do you have anyone who you are proudest to have worked with?

I’ve worked with a lot of different people… umm Rick Rubin, a lot of different people. We met so many good people, it’s hard to even say. You know what I mean? Well, Issac Hayes. He’s a good guy man, quiet, keeps to himself. People are human beings you know. People are just regular man.

You’ve been known for having quite a wild temper, do you think you’ve calmed with age?

Yeah, yeah man. I’m not the only one that’s like that. Don’t make it sound like I’m the only bad guy. I wasn’t the only bad guy, stop making it seem like I’m the only one that’s crazy like that (laughs). I wasn’t the only one.

Your writing style has changed over time. At first your style was quite straight forward, then around the time of Wu Tang Forever your style was a bit more abstract, a bit more slanged out. And now it’s gone back to being how it was originally. Were you making these changes on purpose?

Yes, yes I do change my style up because I can’t stay the same, plus my attitude changes with my style. My process is kinda crazy man. I go through a lot because I sit still, I meditate. I don’t know, I use the lower levels of my brain. It’s just different.

You’ve spoken a lot about how you feel you are quite underrated, do you feel like now is your time to shine? Dopium was well received, and now you’re coming out with Keynote Speaker?

We’ll I can’t tell which way things are going to go or what they are going to lead to, but when I came up with “Keynote Speaker” that’s exactly what I was saying because I’ve basically come to the forefront, to step to the podium and talk to you. So you know, whatever happens happens. People like good music – they gravitate toward it. They do – they do, they don’t – they don’t, but this record right here is my Illmatic. So this is what I’m doing right now. I’m not the four bar killer anymore. I used to be, but that’s not what I’m about no more.

Tell us about the track “Black Shampoo” off Wu Tang Forever, it’s definitely a unique song.

People tease me about that record, I get mixed reviews. I get laughed at. 

A little bit of all of the above, but how do you feel about the track?

It definitely shows a different side of U-God. You switched your style up quite a bit on there. 


Of course I have to ask about the new Wu Tang stuff, do you feel like you guys can make a full comeback with a solid record?

Well, we gon’ try baby. We gon’ give it our all.

What about the production? Because not everyone was happy with the way that 8 Diagrams turned out.

Well we going to figure it out when we cross that bridge, you know what I mean? Hopefully it will come out good and we can be happy with it.

Anathallo interview

Anathallo interview

Anathallo’s latest album Floating World is one of my most treasured albums and being the nice guys (and gal) they are, they decided to let me interview multi-talented band member Andrew Dost.

Currently touring the U.S and Canada, Anathallo have been very busy, so I count myself lucky for the opportunity. Thanks man! 

Thank you for interviewing me!

You guys have a very “pretty” sound going on, I can often imagine you all holding hands and sitting around a family dinner whilst singing haha. 

That actually isn’t too far from the truth sometimes. Most of the band just moved to Chicago, and they’ve been having lots of pot-lucks and themed parties, so I think that’s pretty accurate. We definitely have our disagreements like any band, but things are the most fun, and creatively stimulating, when it feels like we’re a big family, so we try to nurture that atmosphere.

Ha, actually in all seriousness you have such a unique sound on the newest album. For a group with eight core members the creative process must be somewhat hectic, tell us about how you guys operate as a band. How does everything work as far as songwriting and coming up with such creative ideas?

It’s a pretty complex process, and one that I’d say is based more on relationships than on musical ideas. With so many people, with so many different ideas about where a song should go, a lot of the process is communication. We talk about everything, even ridiculous tiny details that we probably shouldn’t waste time with. But that’s the fun of it - everyone shares, we all throw ideas in, then we weed through and edit until we have something we can all agree on, something we all believe in and want to play night after night.