nz music writer

Rich Homie Quan For Brick Mag

Gunplay Interview

Gunplay Interview

Gunplay is volatile, likeable and mildly insane. He’s also a hell of a rapper. Among his polished MMG label mates, Gunplay is the half Puerto Rican, half Jamaican wildcard, rapping like he’s throwing evidence out of the car mid-chase. And sometimes he just might be. The stories of Richard Morales Jr. are the stuff of rap legend and often eclipse the music. Gunplay robbed his accountant at gunpoint. Gunplay’s been knocked out twice on camera. Gunplay loves cocaine and fishing. Like his precursor ODB, the mythos of Morales is unparalleled.

When Gunplay told reporters between sniffs that he could quit coke any time he wanted, no one believed him. After all, this guy publicly admitted to spending £1500 a week and was filmed traveling to Columbia just to partake in the purest China White he could find. But so far, he’s kept his word. Gunplay assures me multiple times during our interview that his focus is now entirely on his career. Wrongly perceived as a Rick Ross weed carrier, he sprung into profile after the collapse of their group Triple C’s in 2009. On the strength of potent guest verses and unrestrained mixtapes, Gunplay signed a solo deal three years later with Def Jam. That same year, his aforementioned bookkeeper robbery case almost derailed any chance of a career as Morales faced life in prison. Gunplay narrowly avoided the charge due to the witness refusing to testify and has spent the last few years rebuilding his momentum.

With the long delayed release of his debut album Living Legend set for the end of the month, I spoke to the determined Miamian about his new outlook. Like Gunplay’s persona, the interview was unpredictable with his phone line and concentration frequently dropping out as he shopped with his girl for $300 Chanel perfume. We chatted about the time Gunplay pulled Rick Ross from a car wreckage, the longest he’s gone without sleeping and learning to write while sober. He also rapped for me, recalled seeing Biggie live and discussed why fans still love him.

Young Thug - I Need Chickens

Young Thug - I Need Chickens

If Thugga continues to spit, mumble, and stutter artful raps at this pace, the staff at Passionweiss might get twin lip piercings to celebrate. With “I Need Chickens,” Young Thug throws out his second freely inventive single alongside Mike Will Made It in four days. Much to the annoyance of the U.S Marshals Office and Conservative Rap Coalition, the persistent rise of the skinny jeaned martian continues.

Young Thug doesn’t need extended metaphors and multi-syllabic wordplay; he barely needs English. The tropes might not change, but the vibe is on a thousand. For a joyous three minutes, Jeffrey Williams harmonizes with himself, ad-libs bird calls and slings a few rhymes about moolah. Being near incomprehensible doesn’t make it any less vital. This is music for distorting how you think rap should sound. What Thugga does in five words is more exciting than what many rappers do with an entire song.

Meek Mill - Check

Meek Mill - Check

Human megaphone Meek Mill takes a break from sobbing like a broken-up boss to offer more adrenaline in MP3 form. “Check” is Meek’s fifth single from Dreams Worth More Than Money and if you’ve been counting, his fiftieth “I’m a Boss” sequel. The thin-voiced rat-a-tat is more music for extreme sports, face-punching and seven figure bank deposits. Essentially, it’s the same as last year’s “FYM” only this time without a hungry Boosie verse. “Check” is a formulaic hustlers ode for those with an insatiable thirst for thumping drums, menacing pianos and minimal ambition. Meek and his cohorts are in the building, counting money and some other stuff he’s told you about before. But it doesn’t matter, Meek Mill is the human Monster Energy Drink. I can’t take it in large doses, but he’s not about to put you to sleep. (Presumably).

Music Video Director Dave Meyers (Missy Elliot, Outkast, Jay Z etc)

Music Video Director Dave Meyers (Missy Elliot, Outkast, Jay Z etc)

Dave Meyers’ frenetic imagination has conjured some of this era’s most recognizable music videos. Active since the 90s, his resume consists of over 200 projects with a genre-spanning list of artists from Jay-Z to Mick Jagger. 

A chance meeting with Good Will Hunting filmmaker Gus Van Sant inspired Meyers to pursue videos and he landed his first MTV slot in 1997 with underground Oakland duo The Whoridas. The Californian director’s most iconic work includes eleven of Missy Elliot’s career defining videos as well as visuals for Outkast’s “Bombs Over Baghdad” and “So Fresh, So Clean.” He won a best video Grammy Award in 2005 for Elliot’s “Lose Control” and has also received eleven MTV Awards. 

Meyers recently took a three-year sabbatical to pursue film and advertising, but is now diving back into capturing music. During more than an hour of conversation, we discussed a fraction of his filmography and thoughts on industry issues such as lower budgets and product placement. He discussed early interactions with Kanye West, shooting with Nas, making 44 videos in one year and a whole lot more.  

Do you think music videos have worth in 2015 or are they in danger of becoming content for content’s sake?

They certainly have regained value for me. I took a three or four year break there and focused on commercials. What I’ve learned with the reach of a music video, especially to it’s fans, is there’s nothing quite like it other than maybe Jurassic Park [laughs]. It’s a very strong connection that artists still maintain with their fans, even more so than ever, because of the way the Internet is. To be part of that and to be a creative entity associated with that is kind of the purpose of filmmaking, or my particular passion. I’ve reached out to all of the folks you’d expect me to reach out to and we’re brewing some cool stuff that is coming our way. You’ll hopefully see some collaboration later this year with Missy [Elliot], Janet [Jackson] and there are a variety of things that might be coming. My passion for videos is alive and well and as I think the artists have sort of gotten used to the lower budgets, the resulting climate is a push for creativity.

Big Krit Interview

Big Krit Interview

While entrenched in Southern rap heritage, Big Krit aims to chisel his own path through the polished grill wearers and double-cup sippers. Too smart to be ignorant, too worldly to be preachy, he embraces the challenge of pleasing fickle fans, carrying tradition and promoting the culture of his oft-ignored state Mississippi. The 28 year old is a veteran of the digital era’s exhausting release culture with six mixtapes, two albums and two EPs released since 2010.

Producing and rapping across 200 songs in four years, a sub-plot developed around Krit’s talent. Was he creatively burnt out? Would he make concessions to chase the elusive hit single? Krit’s 2012 Def Jam debut Live From The Underground was decent, but not quite the grand reveal fans expected. 

Last November, he finally silenced speculative fears with his sophomore album Cadillactica. Krit outsourced collaborators including Dj Dahi, Raphael Saadiq and Jim Jonsin to share his vision as well as working on expanding his own production universe. The concept record about a planet created by 808 drums showcased a reinvigorated Krit cultivating his introspective lyrics while dabbling further in storytelling, singing and contemporary flows. 

Now taking a deserved breather to consider his next move, I asked Krit about his early records, if he’s still chasing commercial success, what draws people to country rap and why he decided to take this album off-planet.

What was your first local hit in Mississippi?

Man, the first record that I did in Mississippi that got played on a radio station was called… ha, “Adidas 1’s in the Club.” It was basically a remake of Crime Mob’s “Stilettos (Pumps),” but we did our own version.

Did you start with a cliché street sound on your very early records before you found your own style?

Oh yeah, definitely, because I was a hardcore Three 6 Mafia fan too. Just a lot of the instrumentation and a lot of the content was extremely aggressive, so it was like more of a shock value thing of just how aggressive and how violent you could be on a song. I was probably like 13 or 14, man, and you grow out of that pretty fast because you grow to the point where you start playing your records for a lot of people that actually know you, older people, and they know damn well that you ain’t living that kind of lifestyle. In the beginning it was just your imagination ran wild on a record, and you could pretty much rap about anything and everything under the sun just to kind of build this superhero character of yourself on record.

Kevin Gates - Pourin The Syrup

Originally published at Passionweiss

Kevin Gates' sexcapades are a double-edged sword, or other phallic object. While shock at his bedroom activities generates publicity, gossip around his personal life often conceals he's among the best rappers working. As I've stated here, here and here, few combine lyrical proficiency and remarkable life-experience like Gates. "Pourin The Syrup" from 2014's Luca Brasi 2 mixtape references his sexual interests in full clarify, providing instant gratification for Chatty Patty’s in your chosen comments section. The Louisianan’s retellings of an unconventional sex life are just a fraction of his audio confessions made of compelling, autobiographical raps. 

"Syrup" is filled with enough detail for a full season of The Wire. Gates killed someone at 13. Before fame, drug money ensured he could ride through Baton Rouge's infamous Highland Road with the same Monte Carlo his rap precursor Boosie had. Gates was selling cocaine under roofs equipped with security cameras. He wouldn't give his product to a thief and was shot while attempting to grab the gun. The tear-dropped sex fiend caught an STD and a friend laughed behind his back while he was sleeping with their sister. Over the course of four minutes, Gates has given you more of himself than a dozen Datpiff trap fakers.  

The hallucinatory video was released last week and doesn’t glorify drank as an easy crutch for A$AP-inspired cool points. Gate’s purple tinted face appears while he traverses difficult memories with an intense black-eyed stare. It’s probable the tortured rapper uses drank as a therapeutic device rather than a fun accessory. Feverish visuals switch between a vehicle speeding through twilight roads, Gates as a blurred lavender entity and of course, him spilling explicit raps about the dirtiest of sex acts next to a woman he’s rumoured to be seeing in real life.

Gates is smart enough to know how to work the media. If you were looking for lyrics to be shocked by, you’ll find them here. But you’re also witnessing the ascent of singular storyteller putting all of himself on the record.

Sleepy Brown Interview

Sleepy Brown Interview

Organized Noize emerged from a dirt floor studio with underclass tales that resonate in every neighbourhood from Bankhead to Brisbane. Sleepy Brown, Rico Wade and Ray Murray fused hip-hop, soul and funk to produce records for Outkast and Goodie Mob that are divine rap canon. Proudly Southern at a time when many Atlanta artists mimicked Miami bass for commercial ends, the trio were among the first to shift attention below the Dixie. Dubbing their collective “The Dungeon Family” as a tribute to their dank beginnings, Organized Noize’s run surpasses two decades and their contribution to quality music can’t be overstated. With credits including TLC, Future, Killer Mike, Bubba Sparxxx and Janelle Monáe, it’s fair to assume if you enjoy rap, you’ve heard a Dungeon track.

Characterized by a scintillating grin, oversized sunglasses and Superfly persona, Sleepy Brown is the trio’s retro futurist. The 45 year old’s musical ambitions were inspired by a childhood spent watching his father Jimmy perform in Atlanta funk-staple Brick, and he’s always paid tribute to the 70s. Aside from production and writing, Sleepy sung falsetto on Outkast’s No. 1 hit “The Way You Move, ” their universal player’s theme “So Fresh So Clean” and “Saturday Ooh Ooh” with Ludacris. He also maintains a solo career, which is four albums deep and includes lover’s decree “I Can’t Wait.”

A friendly and open interviewee, Sleepy didn’t exhibit signs of being jaded or arrogant despite his lengthy achievement list. He laughed while describing how Busta Rhymes influenced the conscious side of Organized Noize and shared Future’s nickname when he was still a “knucklehead.” The Isaac Hayes lookalike also described working with Curtis Mayfield as well as Pimp C, why Outkast’s 2014 tour is their last and almost every other Dungeon Fam query I had.

B Bravo - Nights (Feel Like Getting Down)

Just a little one for Passionweiss.

As per usual, modern funk authority B. Bravo combines old and new to form a potent dance elixir that makes involuntary toe-tapping a certainty. The L.A. beat architect appeared on Salva’s Peacemaker project along with partner Teeko last year and welds the vocoder like few other boogie cyborgs can.

“Nights (Feel Like Getting Down)” is a tribute to Billy Ocean’s classic disco floor filler and keeps the vibe going over thirty years after the original. During my interview with B. Bravo last year, he co-opted Dam Funk’s mission to uplift people with funk rather than chase success and this track doesn’t deviate from the game-plan. Synths, talk-box and drums, B. Bravo keeps it simple because when you’ve got interplanetary vibes this strong you don’t dare mess with the groove. A free download to celebrate his upcoming Europe mini-tour, this belongs in your playlist next to Zapp’s finest.

Big L - Lifestylez Ov Da Poor & Dangerous

I wrote about Big L's titanium debut as part of Passionweiss' Hardest Rap Albums Of All Time. You can read the rest here. 

“So don’t step to this ‘cause I got a live crew / You might be kinda big but they make coffins your size too / I was taught wise / I’m known to extort guys / This ain’t Cali, it’s Harlem nigga, we do walk-by’s.”

Spite incarnate, Big L’s music was forever shadowed by death. Every other line was a blast of threats aimed at enemies, doubters, competitors and anyone who had something to lose. Lamont Coleman was undermining parent’s attempts to raise well-adjusted children, years before Shady gripped a chainsaw. L splattered his bars with an encyclopedia of offensive content and spat them with enough malice to traumatize a Juggalo. Who else would end a song by shouting out murderers, thieves and people with AIDS?

Coleman’s debut was the only full-length album recorded during his short life and he named it in direct opposition to television showLifestyles of the Rich and Famous. As someone who had no time for caviar dreams, Big L was the quintessential disaffected youth. He was too poor to afford a conscience and rarely paused between dome cracking bars to reflect on social issues. Cold angst permeates throughout the record and as a fan of horror films, L relished playing the villain and shocking the listener. While other emcees claimed the means justified the ends, Lamont laughed off constraint and poisoned eardrums with comparisons to the devil.

The power of Lifestylez doesn’t just lie in dark imagery though. Big L was a paradigm of technical ability with internal rhyme schemes and caustic wit. “I got styles you can’t copy bitch, it’s the triple six, In the mix, straight from H-E-double-hockey sticks.” Coleman’s lyrical bloodbath was also backed by D.I.T.C’s production and the album knocks front to back. Unfortunately, Columbia couldn’t predict suburbanites enjoying jokes about killing nuns and found Illmatic’s conscious spin on street-life was easier to market. Big L was dropped a year later and gunned down before he could record a proper follow-up making this project a haunting reminder of the realities of Harlem in 1995.

CyHi The Prynce - "Forever" and "To Be Real" freestyles

Depending on who you ask, CyHi The Prynce is either the most underrated or under-performing of Kanye’s friends. Much like King Chip, the “reservoir for metaphors” is a somewhat capable MC who has an equal amount of fans and detractors. CyHi remains album-less after four years of GOOD Music purgatory and even a co-sign from the Illustrious Beyhive has it’s limits. To keep busy while pondering why Teyana Taylor came off the bench first, the 30 year old released two freestyles last week.

As a sucker for prominent retro samples, “Forever” and “To Be Real”
sound golden to yours sincerely. “Forever” is a pledge of allegiance to the grind over a repurposed hook from matching outfit era Jodeci and chopped Keith Sweat sample. CyHi’s dense collection of bars is secondary to the throwback tunes, but the frustrated vibe from ‘Ye’s rumoured ghostwriter is hard to miss.

"To Be Real" hit 45k plays in 24 hours and the rework of Cheryl Lynn’s 70s disco hit is another production win even she commended. CyHi often trades in back to back simple metaphors e.g “treat rappers like trampolines. I just bounce on ‘em.” This is the specific technique that divides listeners into opposing camps, you either think the quick-wit works well with the bubbly beat or it makes you cringe. No matter what side you fall on, the beats are enough to overlook CyHi’s wordplay. As a fan of both, I happen to agree with the eloquent commenter who stated “anyone who doesn’t like these can head-butt a knife.” If the man who insists on misspelling prince and using elementary rhymes keeps his production team close, Kanye might just let him put some numbers on the board.

DJ Trackstar Interview (Run The Jewels)

DJ Trackstar Interview (Run The Jewels)

Run The Jewels are in full attack mode. Two critically acclaimed albums, riot provoking tours, a growing legion of like-minded fans and DJ Trackstar at the core loving every chain-snatching second. Before he DJed for the unruly duo, Gabe Moskoff was an avowed rap fan from Madison, Wisconsin. He collected magazines, played on college radio, organized gigs, wrote articles and taught classes on hip-hop, all while working full-time. A chance encounter with Killer Mike introduced him to the world of politician smacking rhymes just over five years ago and he’s never stopped pinching himself. During our chat, Trackstar often shared his appreciation for Killer Mike and EL-P’s artistry as well as genuine wonder at how his music career has panned out. He also covered being best friends with his favorite MC, T.I’s inspiring speech at a juvenile detention centre and St Louis rapper Tef Poe’s inspiring Ferguson activism.

The story of how you met Killer Mike is incredible. You saw his number printed in an article and called it on a whim. It wasn’t until later in the conversation you came up with the idea for the collaborative mixtape Anger & Ambition. Was it awkward when he first answered the phone?

I don’t think it came off as awkward, but I was going crazy in my head because I didn’t expect him to answer. I thought it was going to be some sort of answering service that asks for your email address or a sort of fan-club type deal. I did not expect Killer Mike to answer the phone, I expected an assistant or something so it definitely screwed with my brain and took me a second. I was sitting in my apartment in St Louis stoned. I wasn’t prepared for what probably turned out to be the most important phone call of my life.

He was your favorite rapper, and still is.

Absolutely, once I heard “That’s Life” from Pledge one. I was aware of him previously and I thought he was dope. I’m sure I listened to Monster for a time or two, but it wasn’t the record that stuck with me super hard for whatever reason. As rap fans we go through obsessions where we discover someone or get a new view on someone and they’re just our favourite thing in the world. Mike’s basically been my favorite rapper since and no one has dethroned him.

Not many people can say they’re best friends with their favorite rapper.

It’s crazy, he’s been my favourite rapper since ’08 or whatever and I spend more time with him than anyone except my wife. I mean that’s nuts [laughs].

Salva Interview

salva music

Originally written for Passionweiss

Salva’s potent and pounding beats traverse several genres, everything from hip-hop, house, and Miami bass to dance and funk. The L.A. resident’s new album, The Peacemaker, was recorded at Red Bull Studios in Santa Monica and released gratis last week. The project includes some of this year’s best rap production coupled with verses from Kurupt, Schoolboy Q, E-40 and Young Thug. It also bangs so hard you’ll punch holes through every wall in sight and continue swinging.

During our conversation, the Chicago native’s enthusiasm and musical knowledge never wavered. He spoke passionately about staying cool when meeting legends like DJ Shadow and Kurupt, being inspired by a speech from RZA and his family’s history with the Philippines government. He was also genuinely one of the nicest interviewees I’ve encountered. I even shocked him with some common ties regarding his first production efforts. This one’s a goody.

Correct me if I’m wrong, but your recent single “Freaky Dancing” has quite a retro vibe.

Yeah, for sure. I guess that was from working with Ruckazoid and he’s definitely an unsung hero. He’s a musical genius front to back, from turntablism to singing to rapping. He really does it all and he doesn’t really put out a lot of stuff publicly. Really just the vibe is like a Stevie B, Latin freestyle, retro funk kind of thing updated with 8o8s and half-time. So yeah it just came out man. We made the track, he penned it and we finished the production together. That’s one not necessarily of indicative of what the record will sound like, but I wanted to drop it just because a lot of people ask why I don’t do that sound anymore. So that’s one out of two or three cuts on there that have that funk vibe to it.

You probably could have gone for a really easy single. The obvious one with the biggest features on it.

Yeah and “Old English” with Young Thug and stuff has been released and it’s been really successful with making radio and stuff. So the stuff like that on there, people already know I do that. It’s kind of showing my newer fans that I acquired from that, another sound. I think all the heads that get it, like it a lot and those that don’t I think it’s weird (laughs).

How do you decide who ends up on these collaborations? “Old English” for example or “Drop That Bitch” with Kurupt, Schoolboy Q, Bad Lucc and Problem?

So this whole record was A&Red in house, I collaborated personally with almost everyone on the record except E-40 and Young Thug, they sent their verses in. You know it took me a year to kind of rangle everybody up. As far as the collaborations it was like building blocks. Nick Hook got Young Thug on that track when he was in Atlanta. Freddie Gibbs was in the studio a couple weeks later and he was like “I gotta get on this.” Then Ferg wanted to get on it and that kind of happened. Same with “Drop That Bitch,” I got Kurupt, then I happened to be in the studio with Schoolboy Q because I did a small piece of writing on his album.

You wrote on Schoolboy’s album in terms of production or actual song writing?

No actually, a little bit of lyric writing on “The Purge” with Tyler The Creator and Kurupt. So when Kurupt and I worked together, who is a legend in his own right, we kind of penned stuff together because I kind of helped him with the cadence on these wacky new productions that he doesn’t fully understand.

Does Kurupt appreciate the new sound of production coming out in terms of bass, trap etc?

Yeah, he’s a music lover man. He fucks with all of it. He’s just a good-hearted dude. He’s a really good cat and he’s down for whatever. For me to roll with him is just respect, because all these younger guys just grew up on him. He’s definitely a safe dude to go into a rap session with because he gets all the respect in the world.

For “Drop That Bitch,” you went through a strange sample library, which included sounds from medieval weapons. Are you planning on featuring any of those other interesting samples on your future tracks?

Yeah, even the beginning of “Old English” is from like some weird ‘50s experimental record. There’s weird shit always peppered throughout just because I’ve got a record collection and a turntable. That’s the old hip-hop head in me who just likes the atmosphere of some old weird shit that someone recorded 50 years ago. You can’t make that inside of a laptop, so it’s always good to try to incorporate that stuff.

Is there an Xzibit vocal at the end of it or did I just imagine it?

Yeah, so the hydraulics sound is from Dr Dre’s Chronic 2001. So Xzibit is kind of talking in the background over that stuff. That’s actually one of the reasons why this record is going to be free because there’s an Eazy-E sample and some of this stuff is kinda…

Hard to clear.

Yeah, and I had interest from major labels and stuff but I kind of just wanted to get it out to the people man. Just because I’ve been working on it and my only goal is for people to hear it and like it. Not even like it, but just make their own opinion and that was kind of the premise to work with bigger rappers. I don’t want the exposure for the hype. I don’t want to try sell myself to have people think I’m cool because I’m fucking with these guys. I just aim to work with A-1 artists you know. It’s really just a matter of putting this out free and I hope people download it and enjoy it.

Why did you decide to call your album The Peacemaker?

Well, the idea was bringing together these rappers that shouldn’t be on the same track and bringing these worlds together. It’s that and from when I was trying to think of a new brand name. People used to call me “The Problem Solver,” but since I started working with Problem I dropped that moniker because I didn’t want it to be weird. So I was trying to think of what the new tagline would be. I thought back to my high school days and grade school days. We used to roll around with our combination locks, our padlocks from our lockers at school wrapped around a bandana and we’d ride our bikes and go smash the fuckin’ mailboxes and get in all kinds of trouble. We used to call those things “Peacemakers.” That was the nickname we had, different kids in different cities called them different things, but that’s kind of what that is. Peacemaker is also a Smith & Wesson, a B52 Bomber and there’s different kinds of explosives that are pseudonyms for that word. So yeah man, it’s just gully, it seemed fitting.

Where does the name Salva come from? I know it’s your actual last name, and there’s a few Spanish soccer players with the same name.

So it’s a Spanish name, but my grandfather is from the Philippines. Basically, they were Spaniards living in the Philippines.

Your family immigrated over there?

Yeah, actually my grandfather was from the bastard family, if you will, of the president’s advisor in the Philippines during WWII. He was from the advisor’s family with his mistress. [the advisor] had nine kids with the mistress and they all got shipped off the mountains during the war and I think three of four of the children died. The rest came to the States and my grandfather actually stayed over there. He was the only child from that family that would stay with my great-grandfather’s legitimate family and I think it was a little trying on him as a kid because he would see people put to death and see some shit growing up.

So as a teenager, he came to Chicago and that’s where he met my grandmother who is Italian. So the whole other side of the family is Italian. That’s the fuckin’ lineage [laughs].

I’ve heard you’re quite the turntablist? 

Used to be more than now but yeah, I definitely still incorporate it at least. Not a lot of hand-rocking or too much scratching and stuff, but when I play more hip-hop based shows I definitely like to be on turntables and feel that out. But yeah, I came into all of this from watching QBert and Mixmaster Mike, Shortcut, B.Styles, all those guys, Cut Chemist, DJ Shadow. That was definitely my first serious musical inspiration aside from being a fan of hearing music as kid.

Turntable TV?

Yeah exactly, I had all of the VHS tapes.

You were a radio DJ for a while at BBC Radio 1, how was that experience?

It was incredible man. It was a dream. I was coming over to London once a month to record. Radio 1, 9pm live, a good estimated 7-9 million people reach and you know I got the program the full hour, no commercials, anything I wanted to play and I played everything from rap to juke to house to UK bass stuff. It was a fucking great variety in the hour of music that I was into at the time and the BBC family is incredible. The whole thing was just great. It really got me into loving radio and loving that format. Since then I’ve kind of done Shade 45, Sirius XM, Power 106. I’ve kind of been dipping into radio when I can for sure.

I told a friend over here in the UK that I was interviewing you and he said he put out some of your records on a label years ago. He told me about your really early material, when you were with the Def Harmonic crew?

Oh who is it? Shit… it’s definitely been a minute! Uh was it Altered Vibes? [laughs]

That’s the one.

Yeah man, haha!

What were you doing at the time, were you spending a lot of time in London or was that just a label that found you?

During that time I was living in Miami. I’m from Chicago and when I came back, one of my best friends who I still work with now but more on the business tip, he was the DJ for Def Harmonic and I got introduced to them and that was probably some of the first hip-hop stuff I put out production wise.

I probably only had a couple of records on Altered Vibes from those cats I produced, but I was definitely in the crew with them and working with them. That’s when I first started doing vocals and I was actually rapping and trying to sing. I was really trying to find my voice and what it was, it was actually an Antipop Consortium style group where we would rap and shit on stage and that was kind of in that era where that was happening. That was kind of stage two or stage three of my journey.

What were your raps like and how do you feel looking back on them?

Definitely bizarre and I definitely have a disposition towards white rappers a little bit just because of it. I love Action Bronson and Eminem’s early stuff was fucking epic, but I guess I can’t really stomach white rappers trying to be hood and trying to be gangsta. It’s not really believable, and because I love really hood rap. The ebonics, you know it’s like if you don’t really speak like that, you really shouldn’t rap like that. There’s plenty of white rappers that I admire though man, like Slug from Atmosphere. Danny Seth from London is pretty sick, I do fuck with him. I don’t feel the same way about British rappers. White British rappers get the pass because those guys are gully.

You’re going to Hawaii tomorrow with Dam Funk and Just Blaze. Have you met them before?

Yeah it’s going to be awesome. I met Just through Red Bull Music Academy a few years ago. We’ve kicked it a couple of times. I’ve been to his studio in New York. He’s a really nice dude man. He’s super cool. Obviously a legend and I’m a huge fan, so it’s going to be fun. Dam and I have bumped into each other a couple of times and I’m definitely a fan of his too so it’s a fun line-up.

Are you someone who tries to record on the plane or at the airport while you’re on tour? Do you try and work with artists you’re doing shows with?

Yes and no. It depends how long the travel dates are, sometimes the travel is so brutal that it’s like all I can do is veg out. But there’s other times on flights when sometimes the plane lands and I don’t even want the flight to be over because I’m locked in my headphones. So it’s different. But yeah, especially when I tour Europe, when I’d come up there and I’d like work with Boys Noize, and just try to work with cats in the cities that would host me and have me. Back in the day in London I would stay with Om Unit. Definitely if there’s time I like to get it in, but on this Hawaii trip I probably won’t be doing much. I’ll be doing more relaxing than anything else.

You’re a huge lover of music and someone who legitimately seems to enjoy a real variety of genres. Is that from working in record stores when you were younger?

Yeah, for sure. That’s definitely what I would attribute it most to. When I was in Miami, I was working at a record store that’s not really around anymore.

At that time in the year 2000, drum and bass was at its height worldwide and the DJ Shadows, and the acid jazz, all that stuff was happening. Breakbeat was big, new school breaks, proper electro, techno. All these things were kind of at a bubbling point, rap of course too. I just really got lucky enough to get schooled by the other buyers at the store who were just super on top of what it was. So not only did I get to explore these styles but I got put on by the local heads, I definitely got blessed in that respect. When I was back in Milwaukee, I was working at an indie rock store so I was the only electronic and hip-hop buyer there so then it was like oh shit I missed out on this whole world of Indie rock as well so I was digging into that kind of stuff. Animal collective, the whole range, all the different hybrids of electronic and rock and that kind of stuff so yeah, it’s just what I love man.

You chatted with Mannie Fresh at Red Bull Music academy about DJs who don’t have the essential skills of the craft. The DJ who didn’t learn the basics because it’s so easy to play something off a laptop. Because of the type of music you make, some people might put you on a bill with these artists. Do you sometimes encounter performers who you don’t entirely respect or enjoy on a musical level?

Yeah dude, even very close friends. That was a difficult hurdle to overcome creatively over the past few years because my friends in the UK that are house and techno heads, they’re very elitist and they’re very picky. They don’t like EDM. They don’t like American dance music and all those things. To a degree from a tastemaker’s perspective, I agree with that too but I guess I have found an appreciation for people appealing to the masses a little bit more. I think there’s a happy medium. So my head is a little more open to pop and stuff like that than the average underground DJ. But on the flip side you have the kind of corny pop American DJs that play lifeless music. There’s a whole range so I try to stick somewhere in the middle. Coming from turntablism and hip-hop is where I get that at the end of the day it’s a party rocking aesthetic. I call my stuff intelligent party rock. I’m going to play stuff that gets the crowd stoked. I’m going to play stuff they know, but try to do it in a new way.

Try to challenge them as well.

Yeah, try to sneak in some stuff they don’t know. With the gigs over here it’s getting increasingly difficult to do that unfortunately.


Things have gotten really over-saturated in any city throughout North America and Canada. Anywhere I tour, every bar in the city has a DJ.

It’s so accessible to become a DJ, you just need a laptop.

Yeah, it’s not special anymore to go see a DJ for regular people and those who don’t come from the culture – old school rave culture, or hip-hop or house or whatever. The younger heads. It’s not a negative thing, they just don’t come from those cultures so they don’t know about respecting the DJ as a tastemaker. Somebody like Jackmaster for instance, I would go see one of his sets and be really keen on hearing what records he’s going to break and what he’s going to play. Or back to the drum and bass shit, you hear Dillinja or Ray Keith or somebody else and it’s like they’re playing all dubs you’ve never heard. That’s kind of been lost as electronic music has gone pop at this stage. Times have changed and you have to adapt because you know this is my profession as well, it’s not just my passion.

During your time at the Red Bull Music Academy, you described RZA’s lecture as an emotional moment to the point of being “almost spiritual.”

First of all, I had just finished reading his book. I thought it was a great read and one of the most emotional parts is him losing ODB and just that human story of losing one of your best friends.

And for it to happen in the public eye as well.

Yeah and Wu Tang is a pillar of my hip-hop roots as it was for most of us who were around during that time. 36 Chambers I think I got that in like seventh grade and I didn’t even fully understand what I was listening to. By the time Wu Tang Forever came out, I mean I must have listened to that double disc a 100,000 times [laughs]. Just based on that fact and RZA being one of my catalysts in being a producer. I think some of the first things I was messing with in production, like a small 8 seconds of production time on a Yamaha sampler and I was just learning how to loop rhythms, so he’s definitely a hero and I’m just such a big fan of his. He’s well spoken and he has a crazy story to tell. He talked for a good two or three hours. He wasn’t just trying to do his thing and leave. He really put some knowledge on us and I so respect how he went into movies and worked with Quentin Tarantino. Just the whole journey is something that I dream of doing one day and just transcending being a musical artist. His whole leadership thing too. Whether or not I play the leader role, running labels or helping manage artists myself, it’s just inspiring.

I read that the A&Ring or providing leadership to other musicians is something you’re aiming towards in the future.

Definitely. I don’t even plan on retiring. I don’t see a day in my future when I’m not involved in music. Some of the session players from Michael Jackson’s and Quincy Jones’ era are still working and still doing stuff for awards shows, movies and artists. To me, I’m put here to be involved with music so all those things provide longevity as well. Now days where the DJ is a frontman and a celebrity in their own right, I don’t know how long that will last. But even for a vocal artist, not many get to perform and tour forever. That’s a big reason I moved to LA too. For as much as people say the music industry is the devil and is failing and all these negative things, at the end of the day it’s not an omnipotent presence that has any control. It’s an industry that’s commoditising art and that’s not an easy thing and I think there’s a lot of players in the game who do help push things forward and do help create art. There are good A&Rs and there are good label heads and there are good managers. So I appreciate the backend too you know.

As your career becomes more successful and you meet more of these legends who had a massive impact on you personally, do you find over time you’re less shocked by it and it becomes the norm?

I think a part of being a professional is being able to work through your fan boy moments, you know? I toured with DJ Shadow and we became personal friends. He came to my studio and he’s definitely in my top five inspirations with Entroducing coming out in ’96 and obviously how it changed sampling. Now we’re homies and I guess it’s for real. I think some of my old friends from grade and high school that I don’t keep in touch with anymore will think it’s the most bizarre thing in the world working with these people.

At the end of the day they’re only human, which is probably something you learn more and more. Maybe extremely talented humans, but no one is as sacred and divine as the media portrays.

Totally. I still keep the respect and admiration. That never leaves. I stop myself from getting geeked out enough to not be able to work with them on that level, but deep down I know who the real innovators are.

You closed down the Frite Nite label you ran?

Yeah, it’s been shut down for about a year or so now. I still work with like Teeko and B. Bravo, they opened up my boiler room the other night. We’re still all good friends, I still look out for everybody in that crew and we still all work together, but I had to kind of put it to bed because I was touring and promoting shows myself. Managing these guys, it hit a point where I couldn’t perform as an artist if I was doing it at that rate. So getting another label imprint is definitely in the future and something I want to do again with the right resources.

You’ve collaborated with Problem and Bad Lucc pretty frequently.

So I have a friend Yesi Ortiz at Power 106 and she’s a radio celebrity out here in LA. She’s kind of been on the radio for a long time and is really well known. Power 106 really champions Problem and they have for the past couple of years. The “Mercy” (remix) was on Power 106 and that was on the radio every single day, five times a day, for a good year straight and they basically were like “yo, we need another remix of something that’s been in rotation.” So I remixed Problem’s song “Like Whaat.” Simply from that he was appreciative and after a couple reach-outs we got in the studio. I think we cut like five records during our first day together in like four hours. He like a lot of these cats, because I’m white and come from this alternative thing, kind of think I’m just a dance producer. So I come to the studio with a shit-load of rap beats and they’re like “oh shit.”

When you’re in the studio with these guys who are known for being gangsta rappers, have you felt intimidated at any point?

Not really man, these guys are all professional. I think one common thread between everybody, is everybody likes to make money, be successful and get paid. Especially in LA, what’s great is everyone’s just grinding. The people that I would consider real professionals, whether it be rappers or anybody, they’re working every single day man. They’re working every single hour they can squeeze into the day whether they’re recording, writing, doing press or whatever it is. So to these guys it’s just another day at work. I guess Schoolboy Q was a little intimidating, but he was definitely respectful and all that. He’s just a reserved dude and he’s fucking dope.

I thought Freddie Gibbs would be pretty intimidating as well.

You know what, he’s a really nice dude man. He’s a hard ass motherfucker, he’s a gangsta motherfucker but he’s respectful too and professional [laughs].

Cheers dude.

Thank you so much man, I really appreciate your time.

The Blogger’s Guide to Hyping an Underdeveloped Artist

Why aren’t you viral? Don’t you want a Been Trill scarf? Aren’t you trying to fast track your writing career without shelling out for an MFA? Luckily, dear writer, you can gamble self-respect against click-through rates. In the age of the cyber composer, any rapper with a gimmick, a lack of dignity and a laptop can induce headaches and hypnotic devotion. And you can be a part of this. Use the perpetual motion machine of rap blog hypetrains to your advantage by following the simple steps below.

Step One: Discovery

Before spreading audio self-flagellation to the masses, you’ll need to uncover your very own Yung Lean, rhyming pot-plant, or other such rising star. (Find someone with a weird or mildly offensive niche for maximum #exposure.) Misplaced nostalgia, obscure internet fandom, and easily replicated micro-trends tend to be safe bets: The first rapper to successfully incorporate Tuvan throat singing may create a tinnitus outbreak, but could also feature on a 2015 single of the week listicle.

Anyway, to unveil the next Lil Debbie, don’t start with Soundcloud or YouTube. Image is everything. Since you didn’t live through the Korean War, you better skip Google Images, too—go straight for Tumblr. Search for pictures of rappers in velvet shawls, rappers with wild (preferably #rare) animals. Value the $–the symbol itself, not the currency.
The artist (their favorite artist must be Basquiat, by the way) may have invented his or her own genre, which often will be a combination of an existing category with a random addition. Previous examples include Cloud rap, Witch house and Chill wave. You can make up your own using the same formula too: Tinder-trap, Brony house, Bro Bass.

You should also start reading those unsolicited emails from music PR and amateur promo street teams. Look for words used to describe the basement artist like “otherworldly,” “dynamic” or “genre-breaking.” Anything which sounds vague, mysterious or potentially unlistenable should be a good sign you’re on the right track. Also keep an eye out for randomly generated names – “Lil Tulip,” “Yung Eye-Drops,” “Mr Knitted Sweatshirt,” you get the point.

Step Two: Talent evaluation

Skip this part.

Step Three: Promotion

After finding someone who will prove Seapunk isn’t dead, it’s time to promote this vapid tunesmith on cyberspace. Vomit out a think-piece or slide show and explain in careful detail how you’ve always known the artist would revolutionise music. Insert yourself in the story with plenty of unnecessary anecdotes (maybe pictures!) so the audience really gets the connection, you know? You could detail how the two of you communicate with knowing smiles or revisit the time you accidently posted the same Echo The Dolphin meme on Instagram.

Later in the piece, highlight how futuristic their sound is and imply that only intelligent people with a wealth of life experience will enjoy it. Refer to the laptop artist and their three weed-carriers as a “movement,” then finish by proclaiming your chosen hero is “really developing as a musician” or “exploring their emotions.” Below are some bonus click-bait headlines for your perusal.

Step Four: Continued hype

In the event your parasitic host creates a mediocre or almost-good song, this is the perfect time to follow up with a feature about how you knew them first and they’ve actually been grinding in their bedroom for hours. Also worth considering is a two-part documentary about how they started out in their mother’s house, despite the fact that every human person started out in their mother’s house. (Also, call her.)

You’ll need to attend some of their live gigs as a show of support, too. These will likely have a young audience (the other talent show contestants, probably) with a few creepy older tastemakers, social media influencers and Z Grade celebrities pretending to “get it.” Perhaps there will be a prestigious product giveaway and members of the audience trying to copy iconic parts of the performer’s outfit. If he’s wearing a non-breathable plastic turtleneck in a sweltering venue expect to see at least a few look-a-likes. Finally, when the show is labelled performance art, has sound difficulties and contains either rambling or intelligible screaming this is yet another confirmation you’ve found the right person to promote. Here is a perfect example.

If Caverns!!! doesn’t actually release music worthy of praise, continue to proclaim their greatness and ignore this important detail. Make sure you use the relevant hashtags and Ebonics that you would never dare to utter in real life. They too should Tweet regularly with outlandish and barely understandable prose.

Step Five: Capitalise on your success

Congratulations! Now the pseudo-artist has reached their nerd-fan or Tween copycat quota, you can bask in the moment. It’s time to enjoy the temporary influx of digital interaction in the form of one-word replies on your Instagram posts and unsolicited Snapchats. Fill your social media channels with praise for them as well as subtle praise for yourself. (Isn’t it the same thing?) Maybe you’ll finally even get that scarf.

Step Six: The End

The brief success of your keyboard composer will come to an inevitable end due to failing to translate offline and people eventually coming to their senses. You can devise a fool proof plan to distance yourself before the impending irrelevance: Tell people you weren’t really messing with the production on their latest project, purposely misconstrue one of their lyrics as offensive or start sneak dissing them on Vine. The internet hype-cycle is like an emoji obsessed Buddha – always reinventing itself and easily susceptible to the latest trends. Now you’ve reached the end of your first internet musician lifespan, return to step one and discover a new micro-trend you can engage a parasitic relationship with.