Probably the best hip-hop single of the ’90s, and chock-full of ILL samples, please enjoy “Scenario,” featuring a breakout performance by a very young Busta circa 1991.
On Producing in the Right Environment & Injecting His Live Show with Rock & Roll
Intrinsically motivated, quick-witted, Boston-based rapper Moe Pope has been in the game for the better part of the last decade, and is now releasing what is arguably his best work. It’s no surprise he just won the Boston Music Award for Best Hip-Hop Artist. Pope, who is known for his lyrical social commentary and casual persona, is creating old-school hip-hop in a new voice. Laying down rhymes on unique tracks of his own composition, Pope it upping the ante for up and coming hip-hop artists to not only talk about real issues, but to do it in an distinctive way. This month, we got the chance to talk with Pope about his upcoming album, his hometown influence, the music industry, and his creative process.
Manipulating Track Ideas in Cubase Before Hitting the Studio
Chicago hip-hop has never been this smooth. Sorry Kanye, the WHOevers have found that feeling that A Tribe Called Quest imbibed and put their own kiss on it. They’re confident, “far from the regular” and are focused on making feel-good music to which listeners can bop their heads, as evidenced on the group’s debut album Renovations and their upcoming mixtape, due out this month. Continue reading
Tapeheads is probably the best music movie you’re not totally obsessed with yet. And shame on you.
It’s got everything you could possibly want in a motion picture -’60s soul legends, a phantom Menudo concert, early music video technology, John Cusack with a pedo-stache, and a full-blown rap song about chicken and waffles. Not to mention Fishbone as a country bar band…
So technically this isn’t “funk” in the strictest sense of the word (or any sense, really), but we hope you’ll forgive us and have fun with it anyway.
Pioneering MC on Lyrical Craftsmanship, His Upcoming Album, and a New Approach to Songwriting
photos by Maria Grace Abuzman
The voice behind the expedited rhymes of Blackalicious and Bay Area rap collective Quannum Projects, Gift of Gab carries 20 years experience and, as a buttress of insightful hip-hop, casts his loquacious Jeet Kune Do, a blend of funk, farsightedness and fun, upon all eager and open ears.
His latest full-length, Next Logical Progression, allocates his mastery in the form of hyperbolic quips and syllabic swirls that dip, dive and cut through ideas of enlightenment, elation and “The Underground” sound.
In addition to releasing Next Logical Progression, what are you looking to accomplish in the next year?
Well, me and “X” [Chief Xcel] are currently working on a new Blackalicious record. I’m working on a couple of mix tapes, and I plan on touring like crazy. This almost feels like a new beginning. With the way that I feel about the Next Logical Progression and the way that I feel about this new Blackalicious album, it’s almost like a second wind.
I wanna hit Europe this fall and I still wanna hit Australia, and Japan as well. Always international. The world is an important place.
“This time around I took a recorder with me and any time I would hear a bass line or a piano riff or a guitar riff in my head, I would put it down with my voice.”
Would you describe your songwriting process?
The process for this record was different, as I played a part in crafting some of the music. This time around I took a recorder with me and any time I would hear a bass line or a piano riff or a guitar riff in my head, I would put it down with my voice.
G Koop is a producer who people go to replay samples, as well as, or even better than the original sample – and I’ve known G Koop for a minute. So, I would record stuff on my Dictaphone and I would go to G Koop’s crib and I would just hum the melody, hum the bass line. I would hum a piano riff or whatever and I’d have him play it. And from there we just added on.
This was a very organic process. I’ve never created like this. I think I have only just begun making songs like this. There is so much freedom to it and so much limitlessness to it.
“Art is infinite. It has no end to it. To me, that is intriguing because I am always curious as to what’s gonna come next.”
Who else was involved in the production of Next Logical Progression and what are some of the programs and instruments that are used on the record?
Everything from horns, guitars and Moogs to 808 drums – you name it, it’s there. I am always very blessed to work with very talented artists in all the projects that I’ve been on. This time I worked with George Clinton for the second time. There is a song with him and Latyrx, “Everything Is Fine;” we are real, real juiced about that. I did a song with Zumbi from Zion I, as well as with Raashan Ahmad from Crown City Rockers and a song with Martin Luther, an incredible singer from the Bay Area – the list goes on. I’m extremely excited about all the guests on this record.
You mentioned you would carry around the Dictaphone and record ideas that you had. Would you typically get a decent stockpile of ideas before you hit the studio?
Everything came from the mind. I have always envisioned the type of music I wanted to rhyme over, but my whole problem was: #1- I couldn’t play anything, and #2- I didn’t carry a recorder around. So in my mind it was a matter of humming it as precisely as I could, and then once in the studio, telling Koop how I wanted it to be played. This has been a whole new way of making songs for me.
Was it a difficult process to translate what you were humming?
Not really, because it’s all in your head. The talent is humming it right. There would be times I would get notes off key and say ‘Nah, that’s not how I heard it,’ and I would have to go back and replay the tape. The trick is to initially get it down correctly.
Describe the collaboration with George Clinton that appears on NLP.
Obviously, it is extremely funky, extremely lyrical. George is doing his thing on the hooks, he is doing his thing all over it – his presence is definitely there. It’s the funk! What else can I say? It was a great learning experience and a pleasure to be able to see a master at work. I just watched.
Who are some musical influences of yours that might surprise people?
Lambert, Hendricks and Ross – an old jazz trio. I like some bluegrass. I like anything that is ‘out there’ as far as vocal styling is concerned. I am into style, not just hip-hop, but as far as any kind of music is concerned. I am into anything that goes left of where the norm is.
What are some of your influences outside of music that influenced NLP?
Family, friends, movies, books, relationships, interactions – really just being an observer. I really liked Miles Davis’ book, Neale Donald Walsch, Spike Lee, Quentin Tarantino. I am an observer. I really just like to watch creative people do their thing.
How would you say that Next Logical Progression differs from any of your previous projects?
Each one is different; each project represents a place in time and a space where any of the involved members may be at, be it musically or otherwise. With NLP it was a real free process and my new creative approach is what made it feel different.
In the sense of being an artist, how would you say that you have changed since coming on the scene?
I think I have just grown. I listen to everything that comes out. I take in everything from everybody that comes out and I think it helps me to grow.
What is it about you that sets you apart from the rest of today’s rappers?
I’ve seen it all, man. I have seen hip-hop in its early stages, in its growing stages; I’ve seen rappers come, and I’ve seen rappers go. And I have studied it all. Especially when it comes to the lyrical side, I am a very intense student when it comes to the art form called ‘rapping.’ I absorb and take everything in, and it becomes a part of what I do.
What is it about what you do that keeps you from doing something else?
I love it. I love what I do and I don’t see any limit to it and I don’t see any end to it. You can never create so many styles that there are no styles to be made up anymore; you can never tell so many stories that there are no more stories to be told. Art is infinite. It has no end to it. To me, that is intriguing because I am always curious as to what’s gonna come next.
Hip-hop has been benefiting from the music of Doomtree’s seven members since 2001, but a new decade has brought a new spirit of collaboration and focus that has them pushing new musical ground and finding more fans at every tour stop. Performer got in touch with Doomtree members Lazerbeak and Dessa to talk about the making of the Minneapolis based crew’s new album No Kings and how seven individual artists find success as a collective.
Performer Magazine: When putting together an all-crew album, does everyone bring several songs and then you work to pick the right ones, or is it a group project from the very beginning?
Lazerbeak: We initially started out doing it the “everyone contributing individual songs” way, because I don’t think any of us really knew how to fully make songs together in the beginning. Making No Kings was the first time we all got together and made a conscious decision upfront to really work together from start to finish and worry less about the individual aspect. I think knowing each other for over a decade and playing so many shows together made that all possible.
PM: How do you decide what songs make it and what don’t?
Lazerbeak: I feel like we generally aren’t the type to make like 60 songs for a record and pick the best 15. We’re pretty aware while making a song if it’s gonna be good or not, so a lot of stuff doesn’t ever even get finished if it’s not cutting it upfront. For No Kings, we wrote 12 songs and that’s what made the record.
PM: Is it a democratic process or does someone have the final say?
Lazerbeak: Nah, no one person has the final say. It’s always pretty democratic and usually not even that difficult when it comes to picking songs. We also have so many other outlets as far as solo records and whatnot, that if a song is good but doesn’t fit the vibe of this particular record, it still has a good shot of showing up somewhere else.
PM: Has the process changed since putting out the first all-crew record?
Lazerbeak: Yeah, I think the first self-titled album took us about five years to compile, because we were all just solo artists trying to make a crew record to showcase our individual talents. No Kings was produced, written, tracked, mixed, and released in less than nine months. That shit was crazy!
PM: How do you handle artistic disagreements?
Lazerbeak: I don’t know if we’ve totally figured it out yet, to be honest. Luckily we’re at a point now where we’ve all known each other for over a decade, and we’re much more capable of talking things out and working through our problems than ever before. I think we’ve also learned to pick our battles and not scrutinize every little detail.
PM: So many of your lyrics are introspective and personal, has it gotten easier to open on record as the crew has become tighter?
Dessa: I think writing collaboratively has proven tougher than writing candidly. To write about personal experiences demands a bit of mustered courage, while writing collaboratively demands a share of trust. But there’s an extra trick to the collaborative stuff – you’ve got to figure out how to fit it all together, how to devise a cohesive project, like riding one bicycle with half a dozen of your closest friends.
“To write about personal experiences demands a bit of mustered courage, while writing collaboratively demands a share of trust”
“No Kings was produced, written, tracked, mixed, and released in less than nine months. That shit was crazy!”
PM: Does much Doomtree still live together? If so, how does that help (or hinder) the process of writing and keeping your careers on track?
Lazerbeak: In the beginning there was definitely a Doomtree house that almost everyone lived at. We pretty much made both the self-titled crew record and the False Hopes record there. Living together sounds like a great idea in theory, but I think we got way more done once people moved out on their own.
PM: No Kings includes live musicians in the mix of beats and synths, giving it a feel different from much of Doomtree’s catalogue. Was this a conscious decision or did it just feel like that’s what it needed?
Lazerbeak: The beats kind of evolved into this really dense soundscape right off the bat. We figured, ‘Why not just go way over the top and bring in a bunch of players to make it even more dynamic?’ There are definitely over 150 recorded tracks on some of these songs. Our engineer was actually pretty annoyed with us.
PM: What were some of the challenges of mixing the live instruments with the programmed instruments and samples?
Lazerbeak: It ended up being way easier than I thought it would be, actually. People would come in and play all over the whole record and then we would go in and edit their parts down, so that the live instruments would come in and out throughout the record. The main musical foundation was already laid down in the original beats, so it was more of just accentuating the work that had already been put in.
PM: What’s the onstage dynamic like with all of you on stage at this point in your career? Do you have any tricks for keeping your head on straight with so many bodies on stage?
Lazerbeak: We pretty much built Doomtree’s following off of our live show reputation, so we really pride ourselves on the live set. It’s sweaty and inclusive and pretty much just really awesome. We don’t take ourselves too seriously, and when we perform I think people really get a chance to see each of our individual personalities shine onstage as we interact with one another. It’s a blast.
PM: Is Doomtree actively discussing who has what release on the horizon and how they should be spaced or promoted for the benefit of the group?
Lazerbeak: At this point, once you turn in the audio master for your record, we spring into action and figure out how best to place it in the release schedule. We are definitely always focused on building up each solo artist with every release, while boosting the crew every chance we can get. It’s a lot of constant planning and checking in with one another, but making and putting out records is the fun part, so it never gets too stressful. We are all dedicated to make each other as successful as possible.
Photos by Kelly Loverud
GENRE: Indie Hip-Hop
HOMETOWN: Ottawa, ON
ARTISTIC APPROACH: Clever wordplay, old school vinyl sampling and funky breakbeats.
From first glance at Canadian hip-hop dynamic duo Philly Moves, it’s clear that there’s something different about these artists. MC/lyricist Tynan “Tragic” Phelan was born with writing in his blood, as his grandmother, a published poet, nurtured his writing from a young age. Hype man/producer Jonathan “Rockwell” Desilva fell in love with music riding in the back seat of his father’s car, as he blared The Beatles and Fleetwood Mac. Together, the two are like musical dynamite, and their passion for the craft emanates from every word. Their respect for each other is palpable. “I never really considered music as an option and to be honest, let my skills as a writer go to waste until Jonathan and I started collaborating,” says Tragic. “His soundscapes speak to me, and really bring out the best in my abilities.”
Producing a unique sound characterized by thoughtful wordplay, rhythmic breakbeats and a cunning use of samples, Philly Moves pays homage to the true spirit of hip-hop. “At our core we are soulful and old school, sampling directly off of vinyl with heavy drum beats and thoughtful, charismatic lyrics,” says Tragic. And the duo shows no signs of slowing down. In just two short years, Philly Moves has embarked on a self-booked tour across Canada, played Canadian Music Week and has been named Ottawa’s Favorite Band by Faces Magazine. Along the way, Tragic and Rockwell have rocked stages with Del the Funky Homosapien, Lupe Fiasco and a host of other talented acts.
Their second full-length album, How to Drink Yourself Famous, just dropped last month. Tragic says the duo wants nothing more than “to keep doing us. To be able to have done what we’ve done already, making tons of people happy, performing with legends in front of huge crowds; in my mind we have already become a success.”
photo by Matt Morrison
Using the Beat to Construct His Unique Flow
photos by Alan Medvinsky, exclusively for Performer Magazine
“Now you really have to watch what you say, because it has influence. It’s a ‘you can’t say something if you don’t mean it’ kind of thing. People are going to tear apart everything.”
“If the beat gets you, whatever words come from that or whatever’s on your mind just comes out. It’s like you’re snatching words from the beat.”
“Keeping it real is the most important thing. This is just me being me.”
“Luckily for us, we have widespread fans, at least culturally speaking. We got hood people, we got rock fans. It balances out – our shows are always very diverse.”
Many rappers would kill for the spotlight that Moufy has been swimming in as of late, which has encompassed sold-out local shows, a 2011 Boston Music Award win for Best New Artist, and a borderline cult following in New England. Decked out in his Star Gang’s finest (and naturally a crew to match), the Roxbury native with Dominican heritage doesn’t seemed phased by the success that he has worked so hard to achieve – or at least, that’s how he comes across in this interview. Instead, he is sweet, sincere, and full of passion regarding his craft. He is also very reflective of all of his amazing happenings last year.
“2011 was a great year for me, for my team, and the business as a whole. We made great music that all types of people can feel: black, white, young, old.” When prompted to elaborate on the types of people he wants his music to catch the attention of, he is quick to respond. “Music lovers, people who just love music. Luckily for us, we have widespread fans, at least culturally speaking. We got hood people, we got rock fans. It balances out – our shows are always very diverse.”
And his appeal is entirely understandable. His rapturous sophomore mix tape, entitled Boston Lights, makes constructing meaningful hip-hop look like child’s play. On it, Moufy is a musical chameleon; he is completely ride-or-die for his city on the title track, disturbingly inward on “Maybe I Lied,” and a dance floor Don on the exultant “Pick It Up.” And somehow, all of it sounds incredibly fresh because of one very poignant (and crucial) reason: there are absolutely no MCs around that sound like Moufy, not even in the slightest. His flow, phrasing and delivery are unlike anything that has come from the Boston hip-hop scene before.
Turns out, his method for writing such powerful songs is entirely contingent on the music. “A lot of it is really with the beat, you know what I mean?” He becomes noticeably stoic when trying to get this notion across. “If the beat gets you, whatever words come from that or whatever’s on your mind just comes out. It’s like you’re snatching words from the beat. That’s my process, and most of the time I do it alone.”
And while the man prefers solitude when it comes to channeling his creativity, he understands how important it is to make yourself a palpable part of your community, and being a Roxbury native plays a huge role in why he feels so strongly about it. “[Star Gang] gives back when we can. I don’t want to front, though, cause we’re all busy. But as a team we try to do things for the community.” Whether it’s through his Athletes Program, volunteering around the city (most recently at a Boys and Girls club in Roxbury on Thanksgiving Day) or keeping his Star Gang soldiers close by his side, he realizes how togetherness only incites stronger music. “For me, personally, that’s who I do this for. [Star Gang] is like my family, and that’s everything.” A smile slowly starts to illuminate his face. “Especially when you can’t make things happen by yourself – that’s what we stand for.”
Building a successful career, balancing his support system, and maintaining relationships with fans and naysayers alike is a lot to handle. Fortunately, Moufy is picking up on the rules of media etiquette quite nicely. “You really can’t always tell somebody how it is. You can’t always speak to people [rudely] even though sometimes it has to be like that. Now, especially in public, I can’t speak like that because my management will be pissed.” But Moufy is starting to really delve deep into the scope of his agency. “That aspect of media is important – now you really have to watch what you say, because it has influence. It’s a ‘you can’t say something if you don’t mean it’ kind of thing. These people are going to tear apart everything.” Although the conversation has turned slightly negative, the mood returns to a more jovial atmosphere as the talk shifts to past shows, local venues, and mainstream influences (“the Jay-zs, the Kanyes”).
At the end of the day, there is a certain message Moufy wants listeners to take away from his music. “Just be yourself. Keeping it real is the most important thing. This is just me being me. And it’s like, ‘What do you want people to take you as?’” Currently, Moufy is prepping for more recording, more live shows, and of course, reaching as many more fans as possible. But, especially in the music industry, everything is a huge hustle, and Moufy is extremely ready to get his grind on. “Follow me at Moufy617. Moufy.com, go and subscribe. Follow us on Facebook. Go to Facebook and search Moufy. Buy shirts, buy hoodies, buy hats.” Of course, there’s a lot of love behind all of this self-advertising, and Moufy couldn’t make it sound more endearing. “Shout out to Woodsum Music Group. Shout out to Performer Magazine.” And, as expected, he is again grinning from ear to ear. “Hopefully one day I can get my own consistent slot – just have my own column that I write, called the Star Gang Page.” Moufy is a hustler, indeed.
“Intelligent NorCal hip-hop with the heart of a lion”
Straight from the streets of Vallejo comes the latest release from Moe Green, Lion Heart. Although a NorCal resident, Moe doesn’t waiver towards hyphy, nor does he try to play toward the standard West Coast vibe. Much like his earlier release (Rocky Maivia) Green positions himself as a “winner against all odds” type with song subjects ranging from financial troubles to trying to get ahead in the world: think David and Goliath with Green as David and Northern California’s urban crisis as Goliath.
The beats and production on this record are strong (a little bit of a nod to some golden-era Roc-A-Fella), and although Green’s rhyme style isn’t necessarily flashy or ground breaking, this is still a pretty strong record. Lion Heart is full of good beats, and top-quality production, topped off by an up and coming MC. Green has replaced bravado with honesty and has created something that’s definitely worth checking out (especially as a free download from www.superduperdope.com). (SuperDuperDope)
Mixed by DJ Capsize
Mastered by Rob E at The Creative Closet
“Innovative album from one of hip-hop’s freshest”
As seems to be common with his work, Brooklyn-based rapper Beans takes chances without worrying about how he’ll be perceived. On his latest release, End It All, he displays a more mature sound and even wittier lyrics than can be found in his work with Antipop Consortium. The rapper known for his distinctive, fast-flowing and poetic style doesn’t disappoint on this album.
The opening track, “Superstar Destroyer,” features the 39 year-old rapper’s trademark rhyming style, blended together with a terrific backing track. There is an even mix of classic New York hip-hop and futuristic synths, which gives the number a timeless feel. Over the course of the album, Beans works with many of indie rock’s biggest names, including TV On The Radio’s Tunde Adebimpe. But the standout track is “Electric Bitch,” produced by Interpol’s Sam Fogarino. The humming string sounds generated from the synth add an urgency that matches the rapper’s smooth flow. The instrumental outro, which builds with scratching and drums, is unique and provides evidence of Beans’ eagerness to experiment.
End It All augments Beans’ status in the hip-hop community as an artist who takes chances and succeeds in keeping his sound fresh and innovative, without alienating his fanbase. (Anticon Records)