Saturday, February 18, 2017

Aki "Hurt" Kharmicel Presents...

     Since he began releasing albums back in 1997, Kennuf Akbar aka Aki Kharmicel has recorded music that gives you an unfiltered glimpse into his mind. By carving out a distinctive sound, utilizing unique rhyme patterns and wordplay, and covering uncharted ground conceptually, Aki draws the listener into a world that is rich and multifaceted. Since his earliest projects, he has used storytelling - altering the pitch of his voice to represent characters and moods - to colour the proceedings and add depth to his work. Twenty years later, Aki has only broadened his array of styles and personas, and his latest project, an EP entitled TheDameRejects Part 1 (Refuge from Refuse), is a collision of many of his more recent sounds. The EP is a prelude of sorts to his upcoming full length, D.A.M.E. (Destroying All My Enemies), this EP being a collection of "rejects" from that project. But due to the high caliber of these songs, Aki has creatively spun TheDameRejects into a full blown concept.

  Not long after establishing himself as the futuristic soul man and raptivist Aki Kharmicel, Akbar quickly introduced his crooning alter ego Aki Khalaq, and his back ups, the Blak Prints. Through this outlet, Aki spun tales of doomed love, pimped up bravado and heartache, pushing the soulful vibes of Aki Kharmicel into new territory. Now, under the alias "Hurt," a reference to the bluesy song of the same name, Aki delivers this EP, which contains traces of his many alter egos. Producer The Ak, still firmly rooted in soul, also delves into funk and psychedelic sounds. Aki Khalaq grabs the mic to deliver some crooning, then falls back to let "Hurt" spit his rhymes, or talk shit, resulting in an always engaging and entertaining listen.

  While so many artists approach making music in a mechanical way, recording a product to sell, Aki is a good reminder of what a true artist is. Many of the songs and albums he records never make it to the public, but he is constantly creating, refining and exploring new styles, strictly for the love of music. While those who treat it like a job make music that is formulaic and uninspired, Aki keeps it pure and it shows. This is a high water mark for this unique artist and the balance of styles present here convinces me that Aki's best and most interesting work lies ahead of him. Check out TheDameRejects EP on Aki's Bandcamp and stay tuned for future projects.

Tuesday, February 7, 2017

Beetbak Compilation Tape & Magazine

    Here at Bring That Beat Back, we have been quietly working on a compilation tape and magazine that will be sold on Bandcamp in upcoming months. The tape will feature a slew of artists who have been featured on the site, including BigMass of Massdog Music, Aki Kharmic.el, Syndrome & Vyrus of ThEX2, Bullysquad, Name Science, Napom and Marc the Murderah of First Brigade, Supherb, Jahli of Darkleaf, A.K.M. of Cypha 7, Imperator, Masters of the Universe alumni Bennie "Eclipse" Herron, Zombie619er, and Bomedybeats, and more.

    The magazine will contain all the interviews Jack and I have conducted on beetbak, plus a selection of write ups. The tape and magazine will be sold together as a bundle and all proceeds will be donated to Jean in the Front Row, who has been suffering from a condition called Stevens Johnson Syndrome since 2007. For more info, you can check out Imperator's documentary on Jean and her struggles here.

    Below is a sampler containing snippets of a handful of songs that will be featured on the tape. The full version of the tape will run just under 70 minutes with around 20 songs. Slated for a May/June release, further details will be posted here. Stay tuned.

Saturday, February 4, 2017

Giggin' with Mike Swift

Da Mad Scientist

    A while back, I conducted an interview with an artist who I now consider one of the most innovative and genuine musicians I have had the pleasure of speaking to. Koobaatoo Asparagus, hailing from the Bay Vista area of San Diego, keeps his artistry pure. He has no concern for fame or accolades, instead focusing his energy entirely on his creations, which are spontaneous and outside of the box. This incredibly prolific artist began his musical journey creating experimental DJ mixes, under the alias DJ Mike Swift, back in 1990, and after hearing them, his influence on artists who came later in the San Diego rap scene is clear. 

    He went on to become a beat maker and rapper, recording the underground classic Android Masters in 1996, alongside Masters of the Universe alumni Zombie619er. After a brief stint as an in-house producer for LaFace Records, he made the decision to move away from sampling and, instead, began creating his own compositions. It was during this period, in the late 90s/early 2000s, that Bomedybeats was born. A staggering amount of material was recorded, traces of which are scattered over the internet, all of which displayed the new, unique sound he had created, firmly rooted in funk. He began crooning over his beats, and worked with a wide range of artists, such as Young Mantre, J Sharpe and Young Reef.

    Following a drug induced revelation, Koobaatoo reinvented himself yet again, deciding to focus his talents on positivity and to follow in the footsteps of the master of sound exploration himself, the mighty Sun Ra. He began experimenting with circuit bending, and eventually discovered "harsh noise wall," a genre which is reminiscent to the white noise of a fan in it's composition and therapeutic qualities. Since that shift in his approach and views on sound, Koobaatoo has recorded literally thousands of experimental noise albums, occasionally recording beats and funk tracks when the inspiration hits him.

    With this write up, I wanted to highlight a few of his more recent projects, which remain impossible to label but contain traces of funk, pop, soul, hip-hop, and a healthy dose of electronic experimentation. Due to his spontaneous approach, these recordings hold a similar tension and release structure to many free jazz recordings, and are far from easy listening. Their beauty lies in the moments when the chaos turns to order, and Koobaatoo's genius stares you in the face. As the man explained to me, "In the long run, you either got it or you don't. So just like Sun Ra, when I'm recording, if I mess up, I keep recording. I want to get it over with, put it in the archives and move to the next song. You have some cats who be like, 'Nah, put that back. Take that out. Put that snare in.' You lose creativity and it becomes homework. So I'm always spontaneous and whatever I make, I put it out." So sit back, smoke something, and listen to one of Sun Ra's disciples taking yet another journey into the land of unfound sound.

    Also, stay tuned for updates regarding the upcoming Android Masters project, Anunnaki Brothers, as well as some collaborations between Zombie619er and Tranzformer. Both Koobaatoo and Zombie will also be featured on the upcoming beetbak cassette tape compilation, which will be sold alongside a magazine containing all the interviews on beetbak plus a handful of write ups, the proceeds of which will be donated to our good friend Jean in the Front Row. Stay tuned!

Thursday, January 12, 2017

Show Respect Here: An Interview with Jizzm High Definition

    Very few rap artists will ever have a resume that rivals the All Deadly Jizzm. Aside from being a skilled emcee, Jizzm is also a talented producer, having supplied beats for all your favourite underground (and some overground) rappers. His early albums were epic compilations featuring a who's who of the west coast underground, but more recently, like on his 2014 Publicity Stunt record, he holds the precedings down himself, showing and proving his blade is still sharp. With a new project on the horizon produced by Nick V of "Pistolgrip-Pump" fame, the HDMC took some time to talk about his long and varied history.

What was your earliest experience with hip-hop and what inspired you to start rapping yourself?

    I'll take you way back to my childhood days. I was watching Beat Street, breaking, and before that even, my next door neighbour, my best friend, who was older than me, was playing the song "Jam On It" by Newcleus. I loved the song so much I actually memorized the lyrics. That was pretty much my intro. That joint had me sold, ultimately, on the love of the music. Then breaking and popping, in my area - I grew up in La Puente and I used to play baseball, Sunset Little League - and when breaking and popping hit, everybody on my block, everybody on the baseball field, got down. They had the cardboard out and heads were taking turns busting flares, popping, locking, in that style. That early era, the 80s, cats were rocking the Michael Jackson glove with the Playboy emblems with parachute pants. It was the newest shit, you know? Back then, people were saying, rap, hip-hop - it was hard to categorize it, at the time - was just a phase, just another phase from the 80s, like duck tails, and all the other genres that were coming out.

I know back in the day you used to call yourself MC 2 Sweet. I also saw a picture of your crew at the time, U.N.I.T. Can you talk about that era a bit?

    It evolved into elementary school, where I really became an emcee. I was writing down lyrics of songs I wanted to memorize, and I was into Run-D.M.C. So I'd go to school and spit the lyrics, but I was saying the words wrong. They were like, "Nah, those aren't the words." And I was like, "Well, they should've been the words." [laughs]. That's when I realized, "Well, if I messed up their lyrics, I guess I can write my own." Early on, I was influenced by Run-D.M.C., Too $hort, N.W.A., in the mid to late 80s. That's what got me going, writing lyrics. My first emcee name, when I finally started rapping at house parties, I was 2 Sweet.

    In 1991, when I was 16 years old, my first job was working at a record store in La Puente, called Johnny's Record. While working there, I met a couple people and one of 'em was actually Hitman Julio G, who was making beats back in '91 and is now Mellow Man Ace's DJ. The girl who owned the record store, after Johnny passed away, was Mellow Man Ace's fiance. When that all went down, I also met this crew that came in to bring their record called the U.N.I.T. They were signed to Art Laboe's label, Original Sound, and also did some stuff on Moola Records and Thump Record's Volume 2 Soundtrack. I spit for them in the record store and the dude, MC TNT, liked my vibe so much he was like, "Yo, man, I need you to come out with us to do these shows."

    So at 16 years old, I was with these dudes doing car shows, for Lowrider Magazine, for like 5,000, 10,000 people. It was a big difference from my early years, rapping at house parties. So I cut my first record with them. My song was a love song, a remake of "(La-La Means) I Love You," an oldie by the Delfonics. Their song was "Peace in the Varrio," which was MC TNT and Woody. We did a gang of shows. We were performing with Mellow Man Ace, Kid Frost, Lighter Shade of Brown, Hi-C, Boo-Ya T.R.I.B.E., the list goes on and on. It was a different era. It was the era of doing car shows.

    One of the crews we performed with was Cypress Hill. What was crazy about that, before I performed with them, when working at the record store, I helped Mellow Man Ace move [laughs]. I was driving the U-Haul truck with B-Real, Sen, their homie Urn Dog, who wasn't part of the crew, but was one of their long-time homies. But I had already heard their music because they had this tape that we had at the record store that was called Cypress Hill Tribe. My joint, from what I remember back then, was "Hole in the Head." I basically let them know I was feeling what they were doing. That was before they had blown up. I think that was 1991. It was a crazy experience, meeting them back then. Then later, I was doing shows with them in 1992.

So how did you first discover the Good Life?

   Back then, I was joining every rap competition I could, on some battle shit. And back then, I was consistently undefeated. As a matter of fact, there was this rap concert in Pomona at Street Beat Records. I was the undefeated champion for about a year. Then the 13th month I didn't go, and one of my good friends to this day, Jinx, he wanted to battle, and I was like, "Uh, okay." So I ended up going back and rapping against my good friend. But I pretty much retired from those battles. Every time I won the battle, I got like $250 in store gear, which was pretty cool. At that point, out here, in this S.G.V., 909,  I was reading in Urb Magazine about this local open mic spot called the Good Life.

    Actually, a quick story I kinda skipped over: Me and Jinx used to go to Ballistics before all this went down. Will1x, who later become of Black Eyed Peas, was pretty much the legendary emcee and we actually battled him, which is crazy. That was from the earlier era, when I was like 15 years old. We went to Ballistics, the Whiskey, the Roxy. was definitely a lyricist. Just know, we go that far back. Matter of fact, before I went to the Good Life, I went to a show at Leonardo's that is still one of my most memorable shows. It blew my mind. It was tha Alkaholiks, Pharcyde, Freestyle Fellowship, S.I.N., which was Medusa and Koko, Figures of Speech, Queen Latifah, Naughty By Nature and KRS-One.


   So all these dudes performed at this one show. It was actually my boy Jinx who told me to roll with him because he knew Pharcyde was my favourite group. They all stood out, but to me, Pharcyde, with their theatrics, were just crazy! While they were performing, they were standing on their heads! One dude was standing on his head, and another dude was breakdancing and knocked him off his head into the turntables, and J-Swift was DJing, and was like, "Aw, we can't have you bangin' the turntables." So they stopped the music, and just body slammed him and shit, in the middle of the show! It was amazing for me to see those theatrics go down at a hip-hop show. To this day, I've never seen anybody else perform like that.

Well, it all kinda comes full circle because you've worked with Taboo from Black Eyed Peas, Imani from Pharcyde, and now you're working with Tash from tha Alkaholiks!

    It's all full circle, right? At that show, they asked if there were any rappers in the crowd. They ended up pulling up me and! So both of us spit and got cheers from the crowd. In 1993, to be able to rap in front of 500 people with all these rappers I looked up to, that was a feat for me. So afterwards, was talking to me, on the side, and he was like, "Man, this is cool, but I don't wanna do shows like this. There's only 500 people here. I wanna perform in front of millions of people, for the world." So for me, this is like a highlight, rapping in front of all these people at this phenomenal show, at this, shall I say, quote-on-quote, "golden era event." But he was like, "I wanna do shows in front of millions of people." So the Law of Attraction, he put that into action, and has performed at two Superbowls, is a multimillionaire. He accomplished what he wanted to. He had that vision, back then.

    So the same year, 1993, I rolled up to the Good Life with Jinx. We signed the list. We got on, and that was the first place where - I had rapped every place I could on this side of the street, on this side of L.A. - but at the Good Life, there was so many dope emcees in one concentrated place, so much competition. I always thought I was the illest. Now I'm at a place where everybody thinks they're the illest, but they're battling and competing with styles that are so diverse. It was like Showtime at the Apollo. When you got up there to bust, if the crowd wasn't feeling you, they'd boo you off the stage! "Pleeeeease pass the mic!" I wanna say, when I first started going there, it was like 90% black. And the other 10% was like me, Xololanxinxo and 2Mex, Sesquipedalien, Omid. From my first introduction at the Good Life, I was there almost every Thursday.

    I always thought I was invincible, undefeatable, but when I went to the Good Life, I realized the competition is heavier than what was happening out here, and the goal of every emcee was to be the best of the best. You had members of the Freestyle Fellowship hanging out there every week. I was there when Fat Joe, you know, went down. I felt like going to the Life was the greatest competition. I wanted to impress all these people that I didn't know, right? So on my second or third week, they were giving out a hat from a movie that had come out called Sugar Hill. They were like, "We're gonna give this hat to somebody who impresses us." The first couple people who went up got booed off the stage. Then I went up and busted a song I had called "Reject" and I got the hat! I was so happy, I kept wearing that hat, to the point where people thought my name was Sugar Hill [laughs]. I was 2 Sweet, transitioning to Jizzm High Definition, and I had a couple names in between. But 1993 is when I really went from 2 Sweet to Jizzm High Definition.

On your first tape, Don't Even Trip, you had a freestyle, "Nike Radio Commercial." Can you talk about how that came about?

    At the Good Life there was different contests and competitions. One night, I wanna say it was 1994, there was a competition for a Nike radio commercial. Out of that competition, they picked three people: P.E.A.C.E. from Freestyle Fellowship, Otherwize and myself. They took us to Enterprise Studios in L.A. and played these basketball sounds, beats that sound like a basketball bouncing and shoes squeaking, and they had us freestyle about Nike. We all busted and it was strictly freestyle. They were trying to do a west coast vs. east coast thing. We freestyled in the studio, they gave us $700 and a pair of shoes. I remember it was called Air Tenacity. They were playing that commercial on POWER106 and 92.3 The Beat, in L.A. It was supposed to evolve into some east coast vs. west coast thing, but when Biggie and Pac got shot, they kinda decided to do some other stuff. That was another feat that I felt we all accomplished. To be able to listen to the Wake Up Show and hear your commercial come on was extra fun. 

You've done a lot of stuff that has gone on to become considered classic. Probably one of the most historic songs you were part of is "Farmers Market of the Beast." Can you talk about your memories recording that, and who came up with that concept?

    I had linked up with AWOL and did some shows with me, AWOL and Circus. I met Circus through AWOL. I met AWOL in 1993 at a Lowrider car show. AWOL was working as the DJ for JV the Neighborhood Queen. I was introduced to him, but I knew who he was from those underground tapes floating around with that song with him and Myka 9, "And the worms are eating your brain." So we exchanged information at that show, and hooked up later. He came to my place and we recorded a song on 4-track to a beat he brought, called "Mind State." I ended up dropping it on my Illasophic Vol. 1 album.

   What happened with "Farmers Market" was Omid shot me the beat on cassette. I connected with Kamal, he came over to my crib, and we sat down and came up with that idea. The reason I had two verses on there was because initially it was just me and Kamal. We did it on 4-track. We came up with the hook, recorded it on the spot. I shot it to Omid and he liked it so much, he wanted to rerecord it in this studio over in San Pedro. He wanted to make it more of a posse cut, so he invited Xololanxino, AWOL and Circus to jump on there. It was DJ Hive's place, in San Pedro. He did the engineering. What was unique was, Circus came with his rhyme written down on a roll toilet paper, rolled out. 


    You know how long his verse is on there? 

Yeah, like half the song was his verse.

    Right. Well, his verse was like three times longer than that, scrolled out, written on toilet paper. It stretched out as long as the room. What you heard was actually a shorter version. 

Well, I had heard that the rest of that verse got used on "Any Mal and the Useless Eaters" but I had never heard the toilet paper part. That's great.

     I was like, "This dude's crazy." Which he is, man [laughs]. That song definitely became a staple of underground hip-hop in L.A. It was a very mind-stretching and creative joint.

When you were recording the stuff for your early projects - Illasophic, Archives and Show Respect Here - were you just recording in different spots, or did you have a studio where people were coming through to record?

    Illasophic was recorded mostly on 4-track at my place. I want to say I recorded the song with CVE at the CV Shack. The song Evidence of Dialated Peoples produced we did at Kutmasta Kurt's. I actually paid for the studio time to record those joints, and Kurt told me that even though he was recording with Kool Keith, Lootpack and Dialated Peoples, I was one of the first people to actually pay for studio time. That joint ended up being the single from the Illasophic album, and of course Kurt went on to become an L.A. legend.

Your Show Respect Here album really showcased your production. When did you first start making beats? 

     What happened was, from sitting in sessions with Evidence - I think it was there, at Kutmasta Kurt's - Evidence was like, "Man, anybody can make beats. If you've got the ear, any emcee should be able to make his own beats." When he planted that seed in my head, I was like, "You know what? I do have an ear. I could do it." So I ended up buying an MPC2000. I was so excited the day I bought it, I called this company that was doing Jizzm shirts at the time, called Wreckgear. When I'd do shows, they'd roll out, like 15 people wearing Jizzm shirts. They were like my team, you know? So the moment I bought the MPC, I called these dudes and told them I'd produce an album for their clothing line, and we could cross promote, right? It was just an idea off of being excited and hype. Well, these cats went out and mentioned it to a couple of magazines and it was already being advertised that I was producing an album, but I had never made beats before! So when they did that, I thought, "I better get on it!" What I ended up doing, in a matter of three months, I had six of the songs produced and recorded. I went from 4-track to recording on a VS880. The songs I had recorded, I had Mystik Journeymen, Otherwize, P.E.A.C.E. - actually the P.E.A.C.E. song we recorded with Mums the Word up at his studio - PSC from Mystik Journeymen, myself and Mykill Miers. I put those songs out as a 12" three months in. And within five months the album was completely produced, recorded and released. The album featured Aceyalone and Abstract Rude. AWOL One was actually the first person to record a song for the project. Man, Slant Eyes, Puzoozoo and Vixen from Onamonapia and my other crew, Kali 9, Otherwize, Global Phlowtations, the list goes on and on, man. I can't recall everybody off the bat, but everybody that jumped on, killed it.

You mentioned Kali 9. That's one of those groups a lot of underground collectors are obsessive about. Did you guys ever release a tape or was it just songs, here and there? I had heard of one called Zip Codes.

    We recorded a gang of songs and were planning to put out a tape, a project called Kali 9 Zip Codes. It consisted of Khynky Red, who was actually the creator of the crew, Puzoozoo Watt, Slant Eyes, who went on to be Snoop Dogg's manager, Vixen, who was Puzoozoo Watt's sister, Nobody, Noname, Murs was an extended member, Basik MC was definitely a member. I'm not sure if I'm forgetting anybody.

So that tape never got released then?

   No, it never surfaced. The side tapes that did come out were Secret Service, which was Puzoozoo and Slant Eyes. We had songs we had recorded that we were performing at shows, but we never released it totally. The group ended up breaking up in 2006, maybe 2007.

In 2009, you dropped an album called Infinite. Was that originally intended to be Illasophic Vol. 2 but it evolved into something different?

   Yes. What happened was, in 1997, I dropped Illasophic. In 1998, I dropped another solo album called Archives. Then 1999, a couple months after Archives dropped, I dropped Show Respect Here. Then I dropped another album called Unlimited Edition, which dropped, I think, in 2002. Then I did an Illasophic Vol. 2 EP, which was ten songs plus nine other songs from individual projects I was producing. Three songs were from a project for Otherwize, another three were with Medusa, and the last three was a project I was working on with a side crew, which was me and J. B. Evil. What ended up happening was I recorded like sixty songs. I was like, "Should I just take out the top twenty and call it Illasophic Vol. 2?" Or, since I already have the Illasophic Vol. 2 EP, I thought, "Let me just twist it up." So it evolved into a project I entitled Infinite Timeless Masterpieces, a three part album. So in 2009, I dropped Infinite, which is songs that were supposed to be on Illasophic Vol. 2. After that, I dropped Timeless, and Masterpieces is a project that I still have on deck right now that I'm in the process of releasing.

Your albums were obviously known for having these amazing guest lists, but in 2014 you did an album called Publicity Stunt that had no guest spots. Was that a conscious decision to have no guests on that one?

    Yes, that's a 100% solo project. Not only did I not have any guests, but, if I'm not mistaken, I believe I produced every song on the album. It was a different effort from the other projects I had done. Around that time, a friend of mine had passed away, so I was going through something. But I kept creating, and I had some side projects I didn't mention. One was called Frequency Freaks, that never really dropped, which was me, Phoenix Orion and Trensetta. We have a whole album on deck, doing joints over 80s cuts, but flipped. That's been done for years, and we're planning to release it. Another side project was the Wake Up People, which was me, Puzoozoo Watt and Xololanxino, and was entirely produced by this guy from Germany, Kenji451. We have that whole project, for free, on Bandcamp. Then another one we had was West Coast Avengers - we're in the middle of doing part 2 right now - which was me, Tony da Skitzo, and also included Orko, Medusa, Otherwize, Faxx, Phoenix Orion, Born Allah, they all came through. I also produced an album for Otherwize and another one for Phoenix Orion, PXO Futcha Flo. And I produced some tracks for the Canibus and Phoenix Orion LP, Cloak N Dagga.

I saw somewhere you were doing a Show Respect Here Pt. 2. Is that still in the works?

   Yeah, that's something I'm in the process of producing. There's a number of projects that are in the works.

I was talking to Minister Too Bad a while back and he told me other than Fat Jack and Digiak, you were the other producer he had worked with. Did you guys record a lot of stuff? I know you had his brother singing on your Timeless album.

    Yeah, I got like eight tracks with 2 Bad, that we recorded back in the day. 

Do you think those ever might see the light of day?

   If I can find the files. One I have is called "Different Infinite" which is me, Minister 2 Bad and Trek Life. We're all from West Covina. We used to get down with Mista Grimm too.

With your new stuff, you've adopted a more modern sound in terms of production but you've always kept it very lyrical. How do you feel about this new generation of rappers, and do you feel it's possible to adapt to the new sounds while still keeping true to the foundation? 

    As far as my music is concerned, I consider myself to be very versatile and unlimited. But one thing, you won't hear me mumbling. I'm not a hater. I like trap beats. I'm a fan of music. If the beat is banging, no matter what style, I can ride it. Coming from the roots of Good Life and Project Blowed, anything you throw at me, I can flip it. But I'm unlimited. I can do many styles, any style, and as long as I'm making it my own, I'ma do it. But there's stuff I don't listen to and don't like. I'm definitely not gonna get on a rant about what I don't like. You can't put a cap on it, when it comes to me. There are some DJs who are like, "I won't play that," but I have other shit they will play.

You have a new project in the works produced by Nick V of the Baka Boyz. Can you talk about the concept and any details about that project? 

   So far we have seven songs done. It features Tash from tha Alkaholiks. I have a song with Dirty Birdy and Scarub from Living Legends. I have another joint with Rifleman, Ganjah K and Mykill Miers. I have another one I'm wrapping up with Chali 2na. We're gonna get one with Ras Kass. And it's entirely produced by Nick V of the Baka Boyz. We did a song with Dirty Birdy and Scarub called "American Gangster" which is a twist on what a gangster is, which is the government who are the real gangsters. The latest single is with Tash, called "Bout to Begin," which is like the pre-game show joint. That project is dropping on the Baka Boyz label.

    I also was in New York recently and recorded an eleven song EP in four days called Paradigm Shift, with me and Nova the Wraith. It features production from myself, Omega One, Apakalips and J Turner from Soul Assassins. That album is phenomenal. It's definitely on that raw, hip-hop shit and it's an east coast/west coast collab. Another project I have is called In the Presence of Greatness, which is recorded and I'm just finishing the mixing and mastering. Then I'm dropping the Masterpieces project. It's a combination of stuff from the archives and a couple new joints I have on deck.

If people want to get at you for beats or mastering, what's the best way to contact you?

   I would say through Facebook. Hit up Robert Leon on Facebook and just message me.

Free Downloads:

  West Coast Avengers
  Wake Up People: Dark World Light

Sunday, January 1, 2017

Forgotten Dialect: An Interview with Kayer

Kayer Music

    Kayer is an artist who represents the true school to the fullest. His music represents positivity through hip-hop and his roots lie in ciphers and expression through graffiti. He made a name for himself as part of the Forgotten Dialect crew, and later through Sub-Level Epidemic, and has more recently worked with heavyweights such as P.E.A.C.E. and Spoon (of Iodine), both of whom were featured on his last LP, Rewind-A-Decade. With a new project on the horizon, Kayer took some time to break down his history and discuss his plans for the future.

Could you talk about your earliest experiences with hip-hop and what inspired you to start rapping?

    My earliest hip-hop memories go back to being a kid in Baltimore, Maryland. In the late 80s, I got to run with my older cousin and neighbourhood friends. We used to hang at the basketball court, which was taken over with skate ramps, and the breakers always kept a cipher going. It was around 1992 when I started paying attention to graffiti. Also, around the same time, I wrote my first rap just for fun. In this time period, I lived with my father who really struggled with drugs, so by 1993 they sent me to live with my mom in Oregon. The Northwest was a big change from Baltimore, but I quickly linked up with the hip-hop heads and skaters of Portland. There is a bunch of early names but eventually we formed the AOM Crew (Army of Minds) and it was those dudes I started writing raps and freestyling with. By 1995 I was real dedicated to writing songs and painting graff. I used to hang with writers from the O.G. Portland crews SMS, OFA, KFS, HOD, DWA, and the list goes on. Those cats were all supporters of my music back when I got started. 

Kaer Aom

    As far as my influences, some of the first hip-hop tapes I bought were Run-D.M.C., Beastie Boys, DJ Jazzy Jeff & the Fresh Prince, Big Daddy Kane, Eric B. & Rakim, Slick Rick and the list goes on. After that, it became everything Native Tongues and west coast crews like Hieroglyphics, Freestyle Fellowship and Pharcyde.

Can you break down some history regarding the Forgotten Dialect era and your first album with DJ Void?

    Forgotten Dialect was most active in the mid to late 90s. There was about 8-10 of us over the years. The earliest recordings were with my high school homies Chilly Chaze, John Soriano (Fidel Maestro), Chris Riser (Itrans) and myself, known as Kaera One back then. We started using the name Forgotten Dialect around 1996 when we met our producer, 8:35. He helped us get our sound to the next level. Around the same time we began to perform locally and added more heads to the collective. We were one of the only Northwest crews slanging on ATAK in that time period and painting freights was also giving us fame out of state. I wrote a song titled "End to End Poetry" that was circulating with a few graff flicks, in magazines. Writers really dug that I represented both elements. I had people contacting us from all over to buy that tape. It definitely paved the way for me as an artist. During that era DJ Void and DJ Wicked were known as the Audio Orphanz. They were makin' noise with dope scratch routines and heads were juiced to hear Void on my album, which was his first release also. 8:35, Relentless (Bloodmoney) and Zroe Aom also contributed a lot to that project. Shout out to the whole crew and anyone involved with our music back then. Special shout to King Tim 33 1/3 and Deena B, who really helped us out and still got my back in the Portland scene.

You guys had some mixtapes as well. Are those going to be made available at some point?

    At some point I would like to. We just need the right engineer that's interested in battling out the files for us. I will definitely be making a 20th anniversary re-release of the Kaera One & DJ Void tape that comes with a graff 'zine. That is one of my personal goals. Another chapter was the Criaturas Sin Casa/Creatures Without a Home tapes, which featured our brothers from Denver, Ideal Ideaologies (Mane Rok, Theme, DJ Awhat) and Wayzout of Future Reference. I actually spent most of the year 2000 living in Denver before I left to Central America. That was my first hiatus from the whole scene but I was actually still making music the whole time. It was also when I started writing songs in Spanish to communicate better in ciphers. I continue to visit Costa Rica every year. It's kind of a half life I been living for a long time now. I am constantly going through those old songs and still perform them as well.

You were part of the whole Sub-Level Epidemic thing and worked with guys like Maleko and Kegs One. Can you talk about that era?

    I showed up to California in 2002 and connected with Kegs One (Shane Nesbitt). The label owner had already been selling my tapes at Below the Surface since the 90s. I had just missed a couple great years of Sub-Level Epidemic. They were in full effect with partner label La2thebay around this time, but I’m definitely thankful I got to be part of the O.G. 7” collection. It's truly a work of art - you can check it out on Discogs - along with all the other great titles. That was pretty much '02-'05 for me. I recorded and performed a lot with my Sub-Level brothers Maleko, Spexxx, Optimus, Cosiner and Self Advocate. Those were great times, opening local shows, sometimes for famous heads. Those shows really helped me get a spot in the Bay Area scene. As an artist collective we never intended to let go but grown up life had kinda stopped us from meeting up around 2006 or so. Kegs now is busy being a successful barber and has no time for music but I’m actually working with Deeskee on bringing back the label. There is some leftover wax to sell. We are planning to launch some updated sites once our next releases are ready. He is also going to be hosting the La2thebay Show on 2Mex’s Hologram Radio which will be playing Sub-Level Epidemic stuff as well.

After that, you started working with some of the guys people heard on Rewind-A-Decade, like DJ Icewater, Vinroc, P.E.A.C.E. and Spoon (of Iodine). Can you talk about how you hooked up with those guys?

    I was originally connected with Cosiner and DJ Icewater ran a studio known as the Corner Store Studios in Oakland back in the day. I started out in 2004 recording Sub-Level songs over there and working on a solo project as well. Both those dudes had some history with Freestyle Fellowship in the 90s. They also had been friends with Vinroc for years already. Triple Threat DJs was performing a lot around that time, so I definitely felt blessed to be workin' with DJ Vinroc and I still work with him. Not many heads remember Cosiner helped organize Tags of the Times 3, which is when him and Omid were starting to get Spoon (of Iodine) on more recordings. They tried to hook Spoon up with other MCs to work with but it just never worked out. Eventually Cosiner shared my music with Spoon and he really liked my sound. I remember our first session. We made “Supposed to Be My Familia” which was a track about betrayal. All those old songs were for Spoon’s album. Unfortunately they got left unfinished but we still re-visit the concepts when we get together and write. A year later, Spoon introduced me to P.E.A.C.E. when he realized we were living close by each other in East Oakland. I had some great times hangin' with P.E.A.C.E. He is the freestyle king, hands down. He really challenges me as a lyricist every time we get together. Eddie K (Gurp City) is another friend from that era who really inspires me also.

Kayer & Spoon (of Iodine)

Can you talk about your experiences working with Spoon? What you learned from him, as an artist? 

    T-Spoon is a really good friend over all these years. As a mentor, he always reminds me that no matter what happens in hip-hop that it’s important we never give up and represent the old school. We both work hard for a living and come from graffiti backgrounds. A lot of cats know him as Maniak, part of the original U.T.I. Crew and his knowledge goes back to some of the earliest hip-hop on the west coast. It’s cool to hear all the stories and history about Freestyle Fellowship and MC Aces during the 1980s, from his perspective. The stories of him with Aceyalone and Myka 9 in high school, always going the extra mile to build on patterns and vocabulary. Sometimes he shows me some of the old school song writing formulas they used and other ones he has never even released and it's truly amazing. One of my favorite things about Spoon’s music is that he never makes a song unless the concept is going to make you think and hits you hard. And he won’t just work with anybody, so it's real special the times he comes around.

Around that time, you were also recording a solo album that never came out. Why wasn't that project released?

    It was around '07, '08. I wanted to finally release all my music from the 2000s but life just held me back. I got in a lot of trouble with a house me and my wife tried to buy which left us super broke. Then my first son was born in 2009 and that's when everything musical went into boxes. It was just a reality, going to work non-stop to survive and learning how to be a dad at the same time. So, yeah, I had to take a break but I still kept in touch with my peoples over those years.

How did the Rewind-A-Decade project come about?

    So, after a 5 year break, when my second son was born, I finally snapped out of the hiatus. I felt it was important to finish what I started, not just for me but for my family. So I opened the files and got going again. Rewind-A-Decade is basically all the music I dreamed of putting out a decade before. Some of those tracks go back to 2003. I got stuck with most of those versions but I originally promised myself it would come out on wax. I figured it would be a good way to comeback. I didn’t even touch a button on the net until it was finished. It definitely helped me get the right shows I needed last year. I rocked about 12 gigs with DJ Fossil. Performing those songs has given me good momentum but I’m definitely exited to drop something new this year and do more shows.

Do you have any future projects you'd like to give people a heads up on? 

    Yeah, I been working hard on my next release Permanent Knock. It should drop around springtime 2017 and will be available on vinyl. It’s all songs I made over the last couple years with DJ Icewater, Vinroc and Ian Mckee, with guest appearances by Myka 9, Spoon (of Iodine) and Maleko. Cover art by Skill One U.T.I. is a great bonus. I'm already booking the shows that will be going down over the summer. Another project coming is an EP re-release of Sub-Level Epidemic tracks recorded 2002-2004, which will be available on Discogs and Bandcamp for the fans.

Any last words or shouts out?

    Thank you Alex, Jack and everyone at Bring That Beat Back for giving me an opportunity to talk. Shout out to my wife and kids - they are reason I’m still here - all the crews I been down with for years, all my fans and anybody that has been part of Kayer Hip-Hop, past to present. Much respect and peace!

Monday, December 12, 2016

Riddlore? "Afromutations"

     Following his sojourn in Uganda, Good Life/Afterlife O.G. Riddlore? has dropped his latest effort, Afromutations. In recent years, the Rhymin' Ridd has branched away from the sound he, FSH and Ebow developed in the 90s. From his recent collaboration with Texas emcee Mad One, The Claim, to his last instrumental project, Theme Music from Life in Chillzville, he has been broadening the range of the CV Beat. The former saw the Chillin' Villain experimenting with an east coast, boom bap sound, while the latter was an exploration of cinematic soundscapes. This latest instrumental project follows suit, and sees Ridd utilizing field recordings he gathered while in Uganda, where the project was also recorded in late 2015 at Boutiq Studios. The result is a sonic exploration of the Motherland, the CV Beat channeled through a different lens. The project is available as a digital download and as a limited cassette, both on Nyege Nyege Tapes's Bandcamp page.

Sunday, December 4, 2016

Mass Ministry: An Interview with Minister Too Bad

Mass Minister

    The Massmen have made an undeniable impact on the landscape of west coast hip-hop, having spawned artists like Abstract Rude, AWOL One, DKNoDeal, I Smooth 7 and many more. A book could be written about the entire history of Massmen, but it's origins lie with Minister Too Bad, who founded the crew during his senior year in high school. With his smooth, polished flow and masterful storytelling, 2Bad has gained fans across the globe, with only a handful of songs that have ever seen the light of day. There was a lot of mystery surrounding his history and I was fortunate enough to get to speak with him about his career and the origins of the Mass Ministry.

Can you talk about your earliest experiences with hip-hop and what inspired you to start rapping?

    Absolutely. I've been into hip-hop for quite a long time. I got introduced to hip-hop around 1983, 1984 and that's when it started coming on the radio a lot more, and you started seeing the videos. That's when Run-D.M.C. was comin' out. My personal experience: I saw this video on TV called Breaking & Entering with Ice-T. Ice-T was from California, from Los Angeles, so when I saw him rapping, that's what made me wanna do it, even though I had seen people rapping before. Then there was this other thing - it was like the Radiotron - they were kind of mimicking what they were doing in New York, but in Los Angeles, downtown. I went there and saw Ice-T again and I saw not only how, you know, he was able to rap, but also the freestyling, coming off the top and making it up as you go along. So I started off rhyming maybe in like 1983-84.

   I was also a graffiti artist, a tagger. I went by the name 2Bad. See, as a tagger, you have to put something that stands out but at the same time something that doesn't take too long to write, you know what I mean? So I was using 2Bad and when I started rhyming, I already had the name. So a lot of my friends and the people that heard me rhyme, they always used to tell me I was good at storytelling. I would always tell these stories. People would say, "Hey, man, it's like you're preaching, the way you deliver." So that's how, on the rhyming side, I became Minister Too Bad. That's how that came about.

I've spoken to Massive a bit about the origins of Massmen with Jack Clark and We Track Studios, but could you talk about the origins of the Mass Ministry and how it all came together?

     I was living in West Covina during my high school years. In my senior year, I created a group called Mass Ministry. I was the rapper. I had a DJ and two dancers. At that particular time, you remember Big Daddy Kane had those two dancers?

Yeah, Scoob and Scrap.

    Right. So we had our own version but we were from California. So I already had Mass Ministry and I was Minister Too Bad. One day, a friend of mine named Cory Brown, he came to my door and told me he knew a guy who had a studio, a guy that was a DJ that's making beats. They were telling this guy about me, how I had all these raps, and that we should get together and try to make some music. The guy they were telling me about was Fat Jack. This was in, I'm gonna say, 1989. I was living in West Covina. Fat Jack was living in Hawthorne. We drove all the way to the studio. Fat Jack barely knew how to use the equipment because his brother, Jack, had just bought it so they could get started. They started a record company and bought the equipment but Jimi (Fat Jack) didn't know how to use it yet. So I went there and it was kinda like an audition. Once he learned how to use the equipment, I was the first rapper he ever recorded. At that point, Fat Jack became part of Mass Ministry because now he's a component with the music. We're not using the instrumentals from Public Enemy and LL Cool J. We have music now.

So I know later on you had guys like Zagu Brown and The Novelist join up. How did that come about? I know Zagu was in West Covina as well.

   There was a city called Azusa that was maybe fifteen minutes away from West Covina. Somehow, Fat Jack and his brother ended up moving to Azusa from Hawthorne. So that became the origin of when we really started cranking out songs. The studio was set up in Fat Jack's garage. In West Covina, there were a lot of rappers, but there were three top emcees. That was Minister Too Bad, Zagu Brown and Mista Grimm. You know, he had that song "Indo Smoke" back in the day? So we had a movement in West Covina, as far as rappers, and everybody started coming to the studio. Once rappers find out there's a studio, everybody starts coming, even people who don't rap. There was always a studio full of people. The name of the studio was We Track but, for some reason, everybody was calling it Massmen Studios. It was Mass Min, like an abbreviation of Mass Ministry. So out of all the people who came through to that studio, at the end of the day, there was a small nucleus, that was the original crew. Novelist lived in Azusa, and he had flows. He was right down the street from Fat Jack so he was in the studio all the time.

So from that point, how did you discover the Good Life?

    Eventually, we had so many people coming through the studio. Fat Jack, he could only do so much by himself. So his brother, Dejon, bought a space in Hollywood and we stared recording there. There was this function that was across the street where rappers would go, an open mic. So that's where we met Abstract.

    It was a family experience, a growing experience. I found out about the Good Life in Hollywood. These guys were saying, "Yo, you guys have some real skills. You know about the Good Life? You gotta come there!" When we got there, we saw this next level of emcees where everybody was on a higher level. I was already a pretty polished emcee, but going to the Good Life let me know that there really was another level and that a lot of the things I was holding back creatively, I could let go and do that because it's all about being original, having your own style, and being different. I was thinking higher. Everything started to unfold when I started going to the Good Life. By the time we got to the Project Blowed, everything was on autopilot.

You had a really deep song with Digiak on the Sounds of the Good Life compilation about your grandmother and how she was like a connection to your roots. Did they approach you to be on that tape? How did that come about?

    At the Good Life, the lady who was running everything, her name was Bea Hall. She called the shots on the rules. There was no cussing, no profanity, no degrading women, and a lot of rappers, if you slipped up, they'd turn the microphone off and you'd miss your session. When I would rap, I always stayed within the guidelines but always entertained as well. She appreciated it and she had this project. She approached me and said, "I have this project. We want to showcase the different styles, different facets of the Good Life, and there's no profanity on it. I know you already have songs with no cussing, so would you like to do it?" And I said, "Yes!" And there was even a little blessing too there, because the artists got paid a little something for doing the song. And we also had some shows, to showcase it, and we'd get a blessing in a little envelope after that. So I was approached for that.

So obviously your main collaborator has been Fat Jack, but have you guys recorded a lot more than what people have heard? Do you guys have like a ton of material in the vault?

    Me and Fat Jack have recorded at least twenty songs that nobody's heard but the thing is, a lot of the songs were on an older type of recording mechanism. They were on ADAT, and back in the day, the beats and recordings would be on floppy discs, hard cartridges, old school stuff. Between him moving, some of the stuff has been misplaced or lost, man. Yet to be discovered, we're still looking for it.

So were you recording for an album? Was that the intention?

   Yes, there was always an intention to record a project to be released. 

Later on, guys like Abstract, AWOL One, and Smooth 7 really ran with the Massmen thing, but you weren't really as present. Were you focusing on other things in your life at that point, and why weren't you really on many songs?

     Well, I was really into it '98 and prior. I had a son in 1992 and then in 1998 I had two kids. I had one in January, and I dunno how it happened, but it did happen [laughs], I had another kid in December. So now I have three kids. My wife wasn't working and I had to make it happen. I was still an emcee but as far as going to the studio, I had to re-prioritize my life to take care of my family.
I know you also worked with Jizzm. He told me you guys had done about eight songs. Is that pretty much the only stuff you've done since '98?

   Well, yes, I recorded with Jizzm. The two songs I did for Cater to the DJ 2, "Woe is Me" and "U Don't Know," I recorded those in 2003. Also, you know Big Dutch? He had a project and I was on his album.

Was that the "Step in the Club" song?

   Yes! Yes, it was. That was in 2004, I'd say.

So you really only have about six songs that are out there for most people to hear, but I've talked with rap fans all over the world and people still show an interest in your stuff. How does it make you feel to know that with only a handful of songs you've made such an impact?

     It feels good. I know hip-hop is something that's always going to be with me. I'm always going to be an emcee. I still write. I'm still in motion to get some things recorded. I'm talking about a complete project this time. But as far as the admiration people have, it does make me feel good. There have been times where I've been away, a hundred miles from home, and I'll bump into somebody, and we'll start talking and they'll say, "Your 2Bad? The one who sings 'Demo Stage'?" And I'll say, "Yeah!" And they freak out. You know, in San Diego, maybe three hundred miles south of West Covina. I know some people there who've heard it. Some of the crew, they'll be in other states. AWOL, I dunno where he was at, but he told me he was on a tour a few thousand miles away and they knew about "Demo Stage" and Minister Too Bad. It's pretty dope.

Saturday, December 3, 2016

Jack Devo Enters the Twitterverse

   While it appears that Hell has not, in fact, frozen over, Jack Devo has started up a Twitter account. Among other things he will be posting updates on an upcoming magazine/compilation tape that is in the works here at beetbak. If you're into such things, check him out and stay tuned!

Thursday, December 1, 2016

A History of Microcrucifiction

"I saw a microphone crucified on the cross..."

    The Masters of the Universe have a very impressive body of work, with their group and solo projects covering a wide range of styles and subject matter. While their true origins lie with the dance crew House Klan and the mythical Retina tape, the first official release by the collective was Microcrucifiction, a spacey 4-track offering filled with tongue-twisting lyricism, advanced concepts, raw battle rhymes and some of the most potent hooks in underground hip-hop. Over the past few years I have interviewed several members of the crew and have collected their comments regarding this classic tape to present A History of Microcrucifiction:

Bennie "Eclipse" Herron: We had talked, as a crew, about doing different projects at different times but, as you know, when you have a large group of people in any type of setting it's hard to get them on the same page to execute. So Microcrucifiction was kind of one of those things where Orko just said, "Hey, I'm gonna take the bull by the horns. Wherever you're at, wherever you're working. If you have studio access, if you don't, we'll find it, but I need a song." I would say half of it he recorded, the other half we collected from other producers, other crews. But it's a true compilation in that he pulled from all different directions. As you probably know, he actually designed the cover, drew it by hand himself. From the inside, the writing that isn't actual typed text, he did that all himself. And that was the first time we came up with Fuk da Industry Productions.

West Kraven: Me and Orko, we're first cousins. His mom is my mom's sister, you know? So I pretty much stayed at his house is what I'm gettin' at. We put a lot of that stuff on 4-track before people had any money to record. We used to stay up all night and make beats, trying to put it together. And as we were putting it together, we incorporated other people. But basically it was all based on our vision then what they did is incorporate their art and talent. But it was primarily focused on the stuff we were doing.

Shamen 12: The groups as a whole were kind of breaking up. DNA stayed tight the longest. Boot Without a Soul had broken up. Black Bradys did as well and so did Lil Rascals. We didn't fall out or nothing as friends. It was just we didn’t know where we were going with this movement. As time progressed, certain cats grew far apart and started to become AWOL from the click. Orko thought since we were slowly diminishing in manpower, it was probably a good idea that we form a mega group with the rest of the remaining dudes and call the click Masters of the Universe. We met up at Orko's house, in the garage, every day, smoking blunts and drinking beer, and came up with the album Microcrucifiction.

Zombie619er: Back then, that's when we was all still goin' to clubs and stuff, battling people and there was a crew called Insomniacs, and their producer, his name was Toss, and he knew we had Masters of the Universe. So I went over to Toss's pad and I had that sample you hear, "Are you afraid of something?" That's from Freestyle Fellowship, and that was one of my favourite songs. And I was like, "Listen to this dude right here!" And Toss was like, "Well, I'ma cut that up." And that's when I made "Scary Images". We wrote it and then after I made that, it went on the master tape to Orko. And then Orko was goin' to Mad Culture's. That's when they had like a connection too. So then Wally (Orko) got the master and Wally was goin' over there.

Bennie Herron: Most of our early music, it was very improvised. We took the idea, the concept of being able to create, as we create, very seriously. I think even down to the projects, in and of themselves, they're improvised to a certain extent. We made the linear notes, we wrote the linear notes. We weren't just talking about improvising on the track or on the phone, you know, my man over here did the artwork, you know what I mean? Going to Kinkos by San Diego State University to print copies. It was very hands on and very on the fly.

Zombie619er: I went over there when they did the first song. That song was Eclipse and Orko ("Loose Leaf n Lead"). You know, a lot of those beats, Wally already had those beats already. He had already made a lot of 'em. So homie was like the conductor. He would go to this studio, he would do Genghis Khan's song, Bassment, you know, he's on that second side of Microcrucifiction. That's how we got that one. Shit, what was they called? (Concrete Connection) Anyways, it was so long ago. Yeah, basically Wally he put a lot of that stuff together, man. I used to go by Peacez, short for Peace iz of a Dream.

Shamen 12: Orko decided to go solo because he was hurt and disappointed in the fact that he put in a lot of work putting out Microcrucifiction. He felt the other cats weren’t putting in as much effort as he was and was simply waiting on Orko to get us on. No one was doing anything except believing in Orko’s dream and that he was gonna be the person that got us signed and our big break. Some of the cats in the crew were living off of the name without putting in any real work. That was when I decided to go solo as an artist myself too.

Bennie Herron: I think it was one of those things where, in our early years, I called us the concept kings because we came up with concepts all the time. As I look back on it, it was almost a gift and a curse because we were so creatively motivated we didn't give time for anything to breath life into it. As soon as we created something, it was over and on to the next thing. Instead of saying, "Let's cultivate this and give people a chance to get behind it and take it over the mountain." I mean Monday to Friday our styles changed [laughs]. That's what we fed off of. We challenged ourselves in that regard. It's not, "Wait 'til my next album." It was, "Wait 'til my next verse, what I'm gonna do!" Microcrucifiction was sort of a product of that. Not even just that tape but Ruckus, better known as West Kraven, he had this idea and we sort of always talked about it like, "You need to roll with this!" We called it horrorcore. Not hardcore, horrorcore. And it was really dark, deep, if you could relate it to a popular music, it'd be like the goth of hip-hop. It was dope. But even that concept, he only did a couple songs and it was on to something else.

    Microcrucifiction was sort of the same thing. We said in the song, "I saw a microphone crucified on the cross," which was speaking on the death of everybody wanting to be a part this art form, it being saturated and bastardized. Something we really loved dying before our eyes. We paralleled that with Jesus Christ and we were, at that time, very into reading what would be considered subversive literature, Behold a Pale Horse, you know, watching documentaries. It was very sort of urban, underground cult, I won't say conspiracy, but below the radar intelligence. We were very in tune to that, so the play on Jesus Christ, and the Illuminati, the microphone, the cross, that was showing our deeper interest to enlighten people and give them an understanding of what's really going on. I think you can hear that in our music. It was knowledge with lyrical skill with a political edge but at the same time we tried to give you bars, lyrics and skills at the highest level.

Wednesday, November 2, 2016

Ask Mass: Episode 3

    Bring That Beat Back presents Ask Mass part 3, featuring questions from Milen from Bulgaria and a final question by Kiefer from L.A. If any readers have questions for Mass, please leave them in the comments.
Which rap artists were your inspiration back in the days? 

    On the west coast, it had to be Ice-T, Evil E, CMW, CPO, "this is the ballad of a menace!" [laughs] RBX, Too $hort. On the east coast, Tribe, most of the classics. Down south, definitely Scarface, Geto Boys, 8Ball & MJG. I think my biggest inspirations were probably Gangstarr and Rakim. In terms of energy, it had to be LL. On the west coast, of course Cube, Dre, our west coast heroes. But for me, it was pretty much the standard one hitters out the park.
When people ask you, “What do you do?”, what do you answer them? 

    When people ask me what I do, I tell them I work with clients with disabilities on their job sites. When they ask me about music, I tell them I used to work with the producers from Compton's Most Wanted back in the day. I don't usually tell people I produce or rap. I'll just say I like doing music. You can see people get excited when you mention music and they except big things. When you're not able to deliver that dream, it almost feels like you shit on them a little bit. They feel let down.
Do you agree that the fans are responsible for the current situation with the rap music? The whole media – TV, radio, internet fully supports bad rappers.

    Quite honestly, man, I'm not sure if I agree with the term "bad rappers." I think rap, at times, is an aquired taste, you know? I think rap can be like wine or cheese in a sense. At one time, I didn't like blue cheese. At one time, I thought that was one of the worst tasting cheeses in the world. But as I got older and had it with different types of food and different combinations, it started to grow on me.

Yeah, blue cheese is pretty delicious with chicken wings [laughs].

    Damn straight! [laughs] You see what I'm saying? It's an acquired fuckin' taste! And it is good. But back in the days, I wouldn't have liked it. But here we are. We're evolving. Tastes are changing. I still think there will be a market for that style. And I think you'll have more young people who come out and say, "I like that old style."

    It's just like a lot of people don't like country music, but country is big as fuck. They have millions and millions of fans. Here's a prime example: I've given people copies of my record recently and they told me, "If you would've come out in the 80s and 90s, you might've been a hit. It's tight, but it's an old style." That's kind of a kiss and a slap in the face at the same time. I never felt like my music was dated or aged, it just is what it is. If they listen now and they expect a different vibe, it's because that's what their acquired taste is. It doesn't mean what I do is bad, or what they do is bad. It means there's a change in the market's taste. 

 Do you think things will go right and the underground rappers will become the face of the rap music?

    I think the young rappers of today will begin to age and mature and see how disrespectful it was to be out there and not show respect and not know your heritage and show proper respect to the older hip-hoppers. Just like a lot of our generation, who were young at one point, didn't show respect to where hip-hop came from. Our generation, the 80s and 90s, even though we knew where our hip-hop came from, still did a lot of dissin', still was a little bit disprespectful to those older styles.

    I think as artists evolve, they either grow more socially conscious or devolve. They either improve with age like wine, or they degrade and break apart and disappear into infinity. If they rise above, they realize that isolation and alienation and exclusion weren't good things. I've got people that I tried to put on that ain't never tried to help me. I still look at them with love and respect though.
 Can you talk about the KXLU theme track that you and Awol One did?
   Back when I first started doing beats with DJ Slip, they had this thing that they called "beat harvesting." Beat harvesting was basically staying up and doing as many beats as you can to eventually use them someplace else. We did a lot of beat harvesting. So I would take samples from everything, from movies, soundtracks, and at the time, I had a Nintendo 64, which was a gift from my kid's mom. My favourite game was Goldeneye! You could shoot people's asses up in that game. And they had this beat. [hums the James Bond theme] I wanted to make that beat so bad! 'Cause when you played that, when you pushed pause, I think, you'd hear that beat! And I didn't want to sample it. I wanted to recreate that beat, so that's what I did. So Awol had this thing coming up with that radio station, and I had that beat. That's where that beat came from.

   When I did that beat, Nintendo 64 was like the hottest system out and I was waiting for somebody to recognize that it was that Goldeneye beat, but nobody did. I just replayed the parts, used 808, kicks and snares, and that was it!

   The only thing about that radio drop that bugged me was that I fucked up the name at the end, man. I think we recorded it at somebody else's spot. Because it was for a radio station, I really wanted it to be good and I wanted it to be something they'd play. So I did my best to make sure it was a good track. That's why I gave up the Goldeneye beat. They didn't keep me in the loop afterwards and say, "Mass, let's do some more stuff." It wasn't like that.
   I try not to talk too much about that situation because working with Awol was a positive experience, but he never really brings up the fact that he came through me before he got to any of that other stuff. Before the Shape Shifters, before Massmen, Awol came through me through a group called MTS (Menace to Society). When he came with me, he was with some other kids and I took him to Fat Jack and that's kinda how his relationship with Fat Jack and Massmen started. But even at that point, we never were able to work on a lot of stuff. 

   You would think with all the projects they did, that they would come and say, "Hey bro, let me get you on one of these projects and put a couple pennies in your pocket." I don't want to say a lot about it so I don't seem like someone who's bitter, but it felt kinda fucked up 'cause here's a dude who definitely benefited from your connections to people, and sings their praises all the time, but never really invited you to be on their shit, you know?

Doug Shorts Meets the MianMein Ensemble

    Joe Dub and Alex75's MianMein Ensemble joins forces with legendary Chicago soul artist Doug Shorts on the first installation from MianMein's ThreeQuarters label, a 7" record, "Slow Poison" b/w "Throwing Our Love Away." This single is the prelude to their upcoming full length collaboration and gives listeners a taste of what to expect not only from the album but also from MianMein's future projects. While Joe and Alex are no strangers to 80s musical vibes, this project takes it to another level and sheds much of the hip-hop elements, leaving us with a very funky and soulful offering. The music was played live by Joe and Alex and is an elevation of their previous work, definitely warranting the new moniker. As Joe explained to me in my interview with him last year, "Me and Alex have been doing R&B stuff for years. Alex has always had Moogs and Linn Drums and makes these 80s-ass beats. So we've been wanting to get some actual singers. We reached out to a bunch of singers but we got in touch with Doug and I sent him some stuff and he was feeling it, so we've got a nice working relationship. It's me and Alex, all live, and Doug's doing the vocals."

   The full length album, which is slated for 2017, will continue this formula. The aim isn't experimentation, in the broad sense. Joe and Alex are covering uncharted ground in terms of their own musical output, but as with much of their past work, the music just sounds good. Neither artist is a stranger to feel good vibes, and they've proven with this 7" they are masters of their craft. In regards to the full length, "Maybe eight to ten songs. An old school type album, 30 minute album. That's the Doug project and that's kinda been the labour for me and Alex lately. I'm between Hawaii and S.F. so when I'm there, I'm hangin' with Alex and we're doing songs for Doug."

   Stay tuned for further info regarding the full length album and be sure to stay tuned to the future endeavors of MianMein, which is a new beginning for two artists who have already made a significant mark on the landscape of independent hip-hop.

Tuesday, November 1, 2016

Ask Mass: Episode 2

Big Mass

    I've sung the praises of Massive many times on this site, so no introduction is needed at this point. Founder of beetbak Jack Devo provided the questions for this second installation of Ask Mass, a segment where readers can submit questions to L.A. Veteran Massdog about his career, his opinions on music and the industry, etc. Stay tuned for episode 3, coming soon, with questions submitted by the homie Milen from Bulgaria!

Can you talk about your connection with Massmen?

    Hip-hop at some point, man, is a mirror image of a lot of groups and organizations in our society. Sometimes you'll have factions within an organization that pull in opposite directions. That's kinda how Massmen was. At one point there was unity, but at another point it seemed like everybody was pulling in different directions. When people pull in different directions, there are often those that are caught in the middle, kinda like children of divorce. If your parents decide to go in different directions, the question always comes up, "Who am I gonna go with?" And sometimes you have a situation where neither parents care about if the child goes with anyone. That's how I kinda felt about Massmen, at some point. Originally, when I first came with them, they were all juiced about us being a part of it. Then other artists came into the picture and we got pushed to the side, to the back burner.

   When I first came to Massmen, I had already been working with a cat called Rad. He had taught me the basics of recording, how to use a drum machine, so when I started with Massmen, I already knew a lot. When I met Fat Jack and his brother, Jack, they had just got their equipment. They met me through the recycler. When I came in, there were no other rappers at the time. It was me, it was Fat Jack and Jack. Then other rappers started to come in. When more people started to come, the attention started to change. The direction of the group started to change. It started to effect the relationships between people. It always was important to me that everyone was treated the same, but there were often times when people weren't being the same, they were fighting for attention. So if you're not generating enough to keep all eyes on you, you get lost in the shuffle. 

   Sometimes what goes around comes around. If you stop showing love and respect to people, they do that same thing to you. Sometimes when you forget who you are as an individual and how you arrived at that point, sometimes that thing happens to you. A lot of people came up through Massmen, and a lot of people got put on through Massmen, but a lot of 'em really don't know who really sweated blood and tears to make that shit happen. The moral to the story is, don't act like a million dollar company until you get a million dollars. Don't lose sight of the people who supported you and treated you like a star before you were a star. When the pennies start comin' in, share everything. Always give back to the investors. Always treat people with at least the minimum amount of respect and don't forget the people who were there before the name was even created.

What is your favourite piece of equipment?

    I guess, man, my favourite piece of equipment has to be the AKAI MPC3000. I've loved many machines from the Sequential Studio 4400, E-Mu's samplers and drum machines, the SPC1200. The MPC60 was the first one to really impress me. The [E-Mu] SP-12 - a lot of people confuse that with the 1200 - that was also a sampler. I had a Roland W30 years ago but out of all the machines, man, I believe that damn 3000 is my all time favourite, man. Me and that 3000 had a relationship that was unbreakable. I've had my hands on quite a few drum machines and samplers, sound modules, recorders, and man, that MPC... I've had a lot of ones after that point but just talking about that 3000. It was unforgettable, bro. I got my first one brand new, out the box, from DJ Slip, Compton's Most Wanted. It was 3 grand, it was my signing bonus. 

    I imagine an MPC3000 as a paint brush. You know how an artist can take an image and put strokes on the canvas? You don't know what he's doing with those strokes until it starts to come into focus. The MP is kinda like that, for me. When I start chopping samples and beats and drum sounds, I don't know exactly what it's gonna be until it starts to come to the surface, until I can hear or feel something inside, when the connection of the samples are placed together. It's an experience that only people who make beats can fully understand.

    I think the music industry in itself, being so caught up with money, did itself a disservice by placing a penalty on people who sample. If you just sell 35,000-50,000 units, and you use a sample, at that point, you should be paying. But if you chop up a record and you don't make no money with it, and it's tight, you should be allowed to do that. If you earn money with it, yeah, pay the people some money!

    When people started sampling with those drum machines, bro, you heard bits and pieces of records that had been lost in the crates or on people's shelves. It was all dusted off and revitalized to make beautiful paintings. Sometimes you can find an artist who will go in a junkyard and take something, weld it, dust it and and polish it and make a whole new piece, take it to an art museum and people will praise it. Then you take a kid who's taking pieces of a record and they'll say he doesn't know what he's doing! But he's doing basically the same thing. Say you take an old cabinet, you rip it out of your house to put the new cabinet in. What do you do with the old cabinet? You either junk it, or take it to a recycling center. They take it and sell it and it'll be repurposed for a new home, to look brand new. Sampling is like that, repurposing. You take what it was originally meant for and turn it into something beautiful, giving it a second life. It's just like being an organ donor.

How do you feel about the new generation of rap artists?

    I think the new generation of hip-hop is the result of what we've done to hip-hop as a whole. What I mean by that is, the era I came up in, in the 80s and 90s, there were very few people who would really let you on. You had to fight and battle to make it in this industry. People would boo you, give you no chance at all. Also the social conditions that were going on in hip-hop, alcoholism, drugs, crack cocaine, these were affecting our children as a whole. 

    Now, dig this. This may sound far fetched, but what I believe is that the new generation of rap is a product of what we've become. We've become a nation of hip-hoppers that were very exclusive, that did not let a lot of people in, so if you were going to survive in this hip-hop market, you either had to know somebody who would get you in, or you would have to create your own market. You'd have to go out there and find your own fans! I'm not calling them people with disabilities, but you have a lot of youngsters out here who are the products of parents who have severe mental illnesses, so what we have is a lot of children that have speech impediments, emotional issues - not saying all the artists have those today - but what was considered a problem became no longer a problem. 

   Hip-hop is worldwide. So you have all different languages and all different styles. So what you have here is a generation of kids who don't sound how we used to sound. They don't behave how we used to behave. Now, you take us back 10, 15, 20 years ago. When we started playing hip-hop, our parents were like, "What is that? We don't understand that." I feel that it's a combination of a generation of kids who have grown up with genetic, speech, emotional and societal changes which have taken down a lot of barriers. It's no longer a negative to be gay or transgender or whatever sexual preference there is. It's no longer a problem if you can't rap in the format that either the east coast or west coast prefers. These barriers have been removed. The languages, the slang, has changed. 

   In some sense, I believe hip-hop is receiving its just desserts. We were so hard on other people. So hard on each other. Not letting people have a break or get in, so it's only right these kids have found a market for themselves, have fought for it and have found their own fan base. So you can't get mad at them for doing what we were trying to do. It's experimentation, letting people be themselves. It's kind of hypocritical today to say, "this is garbage," when others said the same thing about what we were doing. 

    Now, don't get me wrong. I understand what they mean. Clarity of words, pronunciation, clarity of thought, understanding the structure of a sentence, grammatical structure. That's important. I can appreciate that in hip-hop but I feel I was sort of on the border between both because I've tried to help put people on. I know people who have been put on, but I, myself, have not experienced the feeling of knowing I have people in the industry who pull me in. Like, "Mass, lemme pull you in. Lemme do this for you." I'm not saying this out of bitterness, but when an artist does not have that [leverage, it's more difficult to break through.]

    Facebook gives you a lot of clues as to where the market is. I've seen different videos on Facebook that crack me up of people around the world busting, doing songs, from Asia, Africa, the Middle East, people busting they rap styles, and some of that shit actually sounds tight! A lot of times, we don't know what the fuck they saying because of the language barriers. True hip-hoppers feel that shit, the cadence, the rhythmic patterns, making emphasis on certain areas.

    The funny thing about all this is, in order for hip-hop to become what it really is, just like in R&B and gospel and blues and rock & roll, there has to be evolution. There has to be growth. Hip-hop has grown from basic beats, a combination of other genres, and exploded into trip-hop and all kinds of other genres. There are songs on mainstream channels using hip-hop beats. There are so many groups that use hip-hop equipment, so many fashion trends based in hip-hop. That's my point of view, from the perspective of an artist. On a personal level, a lot of that shit sounds like bullshit. The beats be fuckin' off the chain though, so I don't even listen to what they're saying [laughs]. A lot of that shit, I don't know what the fuck they sayin'. Shit, I like some trap music. Hey, if it's bangin', it's bangin'!

Have you worked with any non-rap artists and what was that experience like?

    I've worked with some R&B singers, some gospel artists. A lot of times people work with you when they think you're about to ascend to another level in the industry and they start wanting to get tracks with you. But if they don't push it, it won't get out there. I've done a lot of stuff with people that never hit the streets. Either they decided to quit or didn't have the finances or lost interest. That's why I'm a bit choosy about who I work with because I want it to actually get out there. In my pocket of hip-hop, if I don't push it, it won't be heard. I've opened up for some trip-hop bands, and have thought about working with some of them. I've worked with reggae artists. It's my hope that I can do more of that before I kick the bucket. That's my bucket list, to record more songs with more artists all over the world and hopefully leave something behind for others to build on. 

You worked with Roger Troutman too, right?

    Yes, sir. I did work with Roger Troutman. I also might be working with a new artist who has sort of a Common style, called Akram Alim. Hopefully I can get some publicity and promotion on him because I want to kind of do a Matthew McConaughey type style. You know how Matthew McConaughey is in those Lincolm commercials, all classy, but do that on the hip-hop side.

Can you talk about your time as sound man at the Good Life, following CVE?

    The Good Life was one of those places that already had its stars. Sometimes, like I said earlier, people have to create their own little market. The Good Life already had some stars in it. And people were very hungry. I think the more hungry people are, the more prepared they are to get out there and fight, and bump heads, show their dominance on the mic. That was our era, where kids were fighting for a position, like for a job. I grew up in that era where you had to pay your dues. Whatever you had to do to get in the door. Help out, carry some shit, do liquor store runs, bring weed, grunt work, to get inside and be recognized. Then, when you get your opportunity, "Can I learn this machine?" Complimenting, praising people, so you can get in the door and be part of their shit! 

    I had to take what I had learned from other people about running equipment and knowing how to use mixers and plugging in amps and microphones and speakers. I had to use all of that as a tool to get in there. So if you're not gonna get on the mic and battle, you have to find something else to do. You gotta sell tickets, set up tables, sell CDs, run the mixer or the lights, you gotta do something to support, to get in there, and that's how it was. What I came away from it with is if you want to survive in this business, you have to remain hungry. Even when the labels stopped coming and when artists and fans stopped checking for you and the money is not rolling in and nobody's coming to the shows and you're getting criticized, nobody's listening, you can't even find your shit in the dollar rack [laughs]. Even when you're down that low, you have to remain hungry.

Can you share any memories you have of the recording of "Slow Lights" where you did the voice of the jacker?
    Yeah, when I did the voice on "Slow Lights" they didn't even actually know what I was doing. I was just putting a background character in it. I just adlibbed that part. They didn't really know what it was until after I had finished.

Stay tuned for episode 3 later this week. If you have any questions for Mass, please leave them in the comments.