Bonus Cut Presents: An Interview With Red Pill

Red Pill Picture

By: Gus Navarro
Photo Credit:  Jeremy Deputat

Red Pill was the first rapper I interviewed for Bonus Cut back in May, 2013. At the time, he was working at a factory, released The Kick with Hir-O in January and Ugly Heroes had just come out. During our conversation, I distinctly remember an earnest restlessness and fear of complacency about him. It seemed that the anxiety of not working hard enough was keeping him up at night but also fueling his pursuit of success as a rapper. His music has that angst because he writes from personal experience. That being said, there is much more to his lines. If you listen to Red Pill, you will hear blue-collar, political raps, as well as thoughts on relationships and anecdotes about drinking a little too much. Conversationally he might worry about not working hard enough, something I relate with, but on the mic, he’s fearless.

The work Red Pill has put in since his early days with the BLAT! Pack has paid off. In the past year-and-a-half, he has toured Europe with Ugly Heroes twice and signed a multi-album deal with Mello Music Group. There is relief in knowing that he’s guaranteed to have music to work on for at least the next two years, motivation to keep making quality music and tour the United States. In this interview we touch on some of his experiences in Europe, shooting a cypher video with some of Detroit’s finest and his first official solo album with Mello Music Group. It’s been fun to see his successes over the past year and I wish him all the best.

Bonus Cut (BC):  In our first interview you told me off the record that there was a European tour in the works. Since then, you’ve been over there twice with Ugly Heroes. What are some of the moments that stand out to you?

Red Pill (RP):  The moment I think it actually hit me that I was on tour in Europe was during our first show, which was at a festival called Hip Opsession in Nantes, France. We knew it was going to be a good show because we were one of the main acts. It was the first time I had ever been at a show that had catered food and our own dressing room. It was a crazy experience. The second performance we did was in Paris, and I’ll never forget it. We got in the van and asked the promoter how many people he thought were going to show up and he was like, “Oh, it’s sold out.” At that point, I’ve never sold out a show anywhere and now I’m in Paris, France and we have a sold out 500 capacity venue. That’s a pretty average sized club but for me, it was an incredible experience. For whatever reason, they’re really into the music over there.

BC:  You met KRS-One over there, how was that?

RP:  I’ve never been around big, big celebrities, ya know? Locally, there are people you look up to and that sort of thing. For me, two of those guys are Apollo Brown and Black Milk. You know they’re important to underground hip-hop and they’ve done shit. Meeting KRS was crazy because he pioneered the music that we’re making today, over thirty years ago. We were at this massive hip-hop festival called Hip-Hop Kemp in the Czech Republic. We’re in the backstage area and there was this commotion and I just see this gigantic human being, KRS-One, just walking by, pointing and giving high-fives to people. There was an aura about him that I can’t explain. You don’t get how impactful this man was until you see him. And he’s so humble. Cee-Lo Green was at the festival one night to perform. It didn’t matter who you were, everyone had to leave the backstage area. KRS could have requested that, but he didn’t. Even though he’s a huge name, he was a super humble and cool dude which is something to learn from.

BC:  On the second tour you were on the road with Skyzoo and Torae performing as the Barrel Brothers, what was that like?

RP:  They are incredible dudes, man. Skyzoo and Torae have been people that I looked up to comin’ up, but you never know what people are going to be like. They’re just super nice, genuine people. They’re incredible tour partners. It was cool because I got to see a lot of what they do. Torae is just constantly fuckin’ working. He’s got his radio show on Sirius XM. We’d get done with a performance, and he’d go back to his hotel room and work on his show. He’s just a fuckin’ workhorse and you learn from that. You don’t have to be workin’ every second of your life, but in this line of work you have to put in the hours. You gotta be on time with your shit and all that.

BC:  I think something I’ve learned over the past year is that people that are successful in the “underground” hip-hop scene are fucking smart and they work super hard.

RP:  You have to be. I’m a stickler for showing up to my recording sessions on time. I don’t write in the studio and shit like that. I’m there, ready to go. It’s the little details in everything and doing all the small things as best as you can. Sometimes I get down on myself because I feel that I’m not working hard enough. I think that’s a good thing though. It keeps my on my toes.

BC:  You were part of an Apollo Brown Cypher video with Marv Won, Miz Korona, Ras Kass and Noveliss of Clear Soul Forces. How fun was that?

RP:  The cypher video was cool. As an “up-and-coming” artist you get to a point where you start asserting yourself as someone who deserves to be where you’re at. I’m not super well known yet, but being able to get in a cypher video with Miz Korona and Noveliss, people I’ve known for awhile, and then Marv Won and Ras Kass was a big deal to me. The thing about it was that it was so fuckin’ hot. I was pouring sweat and my pants felt like they were melting to my legs. We had to do takes of each person’s verse a few times. Apparently being in an alley with a barrel fire for a few hours get’s pretty hot.

BC: From the last time we talked, it was clear that succeeding as a rapper in United States, specifically in Michigan, was very important to you. Does that still hold true despite the success of your music in other places such as Europe?

RP:  It definitely does. Outside of putting out music and those things, the biggest goal for next year is going on tour in the U.S.. MindFeederz, the booking agents from overseas, are trying to break into the North American market so I’ll hopefully be a part of that. Even with all of the success I’ve had over the past year with Mello Music Group as a member of Ugly Heroes and now a solo artist, I’m still a relatively unknown artist. As a stand alone artist, it’s time for me to break out. To do that, I think it’s going to take touring the U.S. and becoming someone that people know about over here.

BC:  Your music is always reflective of what you’re going through in life and what you’re thinking about. Based on that, what are some of the themes and ideas your album touches on?

RP:  A lot of it is about trying to understand what our generation, the post-college, whiny millennials, are going through. I’m trying to put my experiences of getting out of college and not knowing what the hell I’m doing with my life into it. I worked at the plant for awhile and that’s what you hear throughout Ugly Heroes. The new album is from there on. I feel that a lot of us just sort of feel lost. We still kind of feel like kids, and we’re trying to bridge that gap from being a young adult to an actual adult. From my particular experiences, I’ve dealt with drinking and personal issues with my girlfriend. We had a rough patch and it was all because I was struggling with being depressed. It was like this sickness that hurt our relationship as well as relationships with some of my friends and family.

BC:  Do you feel like you have a better sense of where you’re trying to go and what you’re trying to accomplish?

RP:  I feel more okay with what I’m doing. I’ve signed a multi-album deal with MMG so I’ll be with them for a while. I’m a little younger than the artists I look up to were when things started to happen for them. I’m about to be 27 so I’m not young per se, but I feel pretty good about where I am. It makes me feel that it was worth it to forego trying to find a normal 9-5 job because I’ve got something to say for it. I still feel like I’m trying to figure things out, but it’s nice to have a sense of where I’ll be for the next few years at least. There’s less of an unknown.

BC:   So you’re basically saying that at 22 I’ve still got at least five more years of feeling this way?

RP:  Yeah, pretty much.

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Bonus Cut Poetry: “Snake Eyes” by Daniel Hodgman

Photo Credit: ipoll.com

Photo Credit: ipoll.com

This is Bonus Cut Poetry, a series that features original poems by Bonus Cut staff, artists and YOU! In this series, our mission is to bring people together in poetry, share stories and display wonderful artistic pieces. If you would like to have your poems in the next Bonus Cut Poetry installment, just email us at bonuscut@gmail.com

This installment features Bonus Cut’s
own Daniel Hodgman.

Snake Eyes
By: Daniel Hodgman

Gleaming hat in one hand and cream in the other
How many pieces must I drain to build my hotels?
Your cold metallic cars rust
On a belt no longer worthy of any man’s attention.
Your iron
Firmly brims with confidence
But it doesn’t hold to my boot
Pressed on your throat.
Your dogs howl
While rats scavenge
On the lost souls frozen over by my intoxicating winds.
Your shoes tread
Laceless
With material better suited to hang those
South of the loop.
And the freighters in the distance
Further prove
Your ship has long sailed away.

I charge for parking
Because nothing in life is free
And don’t bet your bottom dollar I’ll provide a community chest.
Give me all the railroads.
We’re in Chicago aren’t we?
You kick and scream
But I won’t hear it over the roll of my dye
While my eyes gleam as green
As the turbulent waters in March.
I’m the player, the banker, and a Parker Brother in jest.
I am the cyclical system
And you traverse my square.
I make you watch your back
So long as no one protects your front.
I beckon you over
Watching
As you fall off the boardwalk.

 

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The Starting 5 — Favorites of 2014

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The Starting 5 is a musical rotation of what Bonus Cut is currently digging this week. We have a few extra tracks coming off the bench.

Gus’s Starting 5 

Daniel’s Starting 5

Album of the Week: “Beauty and the Beast” by Rapsody

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Daniel’s Thought

On “Who I Am,” the second track off of her Beauty and the Beast EP, Rapsody feeds us with the truth. “They know who I am,” she relays. “Everyday I wake up lacing my Jordan, they know who I wake up being every morning.”

Though we all know who Rapsody is, Beauty and the Beast is very much a self-reflective record that inspects the inner-workings of this intelligent MC from her point of view. For much of the EP’s run, Rapsody runs with the idea that experiences and retrospective outpouring is needed to better understand yourself and the bustling world around you. Some of this is showcased on a logical straightforward in-your-face light, like the stretching mood setter “Waiting On It (Baby Girl)” and its rhythmic trot (“I rose like your face to make up for shit that you do/ Bust Smith & Wessons, I’m a weapon to those wept on you”). However, most of this thematic lead is portrayed through tracks that are scarred and wounded by life’s experiences. The 9th Wonder produced “Hard to Choose” grounds itself in specific detail, which leads to a bigger idealistic theme: “Cause I love all races but we gotta raise ‘em/ Cause I know the scale tipped ain’t in no black girl’s favor/ Hey yall we all outcasts, these black girls favor/ The blonde Barbie and scars, we all gotta save ‘em.”

Beauty and the Beast is a worthwhile and collectable record because it sheds light on personal experience while retaining replay value, booming hip-hop variation and the Rapsody effect, the theory that states that everything Rapsody produces is an experience within itself. As she states on the aforementioned “Who I Am,” we can all see where Rapsody is coming from, but it’s not until this record where we get to see that she’s finding and feeding through this herself: “We can’t change like dyes/ So make music like this so you don’t forget/ And always remember and recognize who you are.”

Gus’ Thought

You are either familiar with Rapsody because of her work with Kooley High, her solo projects or a combination of both. Either way, there is one constant that goes with the North Carolina MC: she always brings it. This is most definitely true of her recent EP, Beauty and the Beast. Without guest appearances, Rapsody delves into more serious topics, but also reminds us that she can rap for the sake of rapping. With production from Khrysis, Eric G, Nottz and 9th Wonder, Beauty and the Beast hits heavy and sets up Rapsody to do what she does best.

The first track, “Feel It,” moves slow with crescendoing horns and bass kicks that are full of syncopation. Here, Rapsody’s wordplay moves from one boastful example of her skills to the next. It is, however, in good taste. “Leaders lead/ Followers trail/ I never looked back/ When you this good, you never get lapped/ Widen the gap like plus-size way in the back/ I’m too big for your britches/ Ain’t never been slapped.” Later on in the project, 9th Wonder’s fly beat on “Godzilla” lends itself to more of Rapsody’s braggadocious rhymes. It just sounds like Rapsody had a blast rapping over the beat, making it even more fun to nod your head to.

While Rapsody shows us she can boast with the best of them, other tracks demonstrate how she makes sense of the world around her. “Hard To Choose” finds Rapsody speaking on the difficulty of making decisions. Over soulful production, she emphasizes that who she is, where her career has gone and what she raps about, is a result of her choices. “No love lost for whites, Latinos or the Asians/ Loyal to all, but when I look at these black girl’s faces/ I understand why I chose to be better, not basic.” The last track, “Forgive Me,” is a much-needed, high-voltage close to the project. Complete with never-ending drum fills and soaring piano chords, Rapsody is at her best.

With multiple references to the death of Michael Brown, racism in America, on-point social commentary and moments of witty boastfulness, Rapsody’s Beauty and the Beast is an EP worth everyone’s time. In more ways than one, the project is a representation of what life should be. There is time to have fun and chill, but it must be supplemented with an ability to think critically about what is happening in the world. Beauty and the Beast is a collection of hard-hitting beats that showcases Rapsody’s wide-range of talents. Turn it all the way up.

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Bonus Cut Presents: An Interview With Bambu

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By: Gus Navarro

I want to start where Bambu de Pistola ended his show. Drenched in sweat after ripping up the stage for a solid forty-five minutes, he spoke to the crowd. With Dead Prez’s “It’s Bigger Than Hip-Hop” thumping behind him, he stressed to us that while artists such as Dead Prez, Immortal Technique and himself make music from a radical perspective, it doesn’t start and end with the music. He explained that if you’re simply into the music, you’re just a fan. There is nothing wrong with being a fan, but in order to demand change, people need to go out and take it. Communities have to organize and come together around the issues that are important to them. Hip-hop is absolutely a powerful manifestation of this, but it can’t end when your favorite album reaches the outro.

Representing Los Angeles and currently residing in Oakland, Bambu walks and talks the life he raps about. Whether it’s on his 2012 release, …one rifle per family., or his recent album, Party Worker, you will find an MC that reps his Filipino-American heritage to the fullest and is unafraid to tell it like it is with politically charged, and at times, humorous lyricism. Following the show, we sat down and chopped it up over the creation of his new his record, his work as a community organizer, raising a child and some of the albums that were most influential to him. Being on tour can be hectic, so I appreciate his willingness to sit down and speak with me following his performance.

Bonus Cut (BC):  Based on your experiences, what has hip-hop meant to you?

Bambu:  It’s been positive. I grew up around hip-hop so it was just always a part of my life in some form or fashion before we even labeled it hip-hop. It was just always around. It’s difficult to figure out where it fits in because it runs parallel with all the significant moments in my life. It’s a difficult question to answer, but I think the bottom line is that it’s been a positive experience for me. I wouldn’t go so far as to say it’s saved my life, but it’s given my life direction.

BC:  Do you want to talk about your time in the military?

Bambu:  I mean there’s not much to say. It was a strong suggestion I was given. I had been getting in trouble, a lot. I got locked up for armed robbery. I was let off house arrest and on probation and upon my release from house arrest I moved in with my adopted family. Then joined the military. I started to become politicized only because I was starting to see things from within. I went to East Timor, and saw people that looked just like me. I heard what people said about them, and came home with a different fervor. And you know, George Bush was in office so it was pretty easy to put a critical eye on things.

BC:  I work with youth in underprivileged communities and the military is presented as a viable option as far as getting out of the hood. For me to even say that is just wrong.

Bambu:  Yeah I mean it’s calculated. It’s marketed that way to us. And they specifically target low-income, marginalized communities. I was talking to a security guard yesterday, a young kid who had just turned eighteen. He was working security at the venue we were at last night, and he was going to boot camp in a few days. We were talking about what he was going to experience and go through. He was telling me how they just brought the ASVAB test to him. They make recruiting so easy.

BC:  And this is something we see throughout history.

Bambu:  Right. It’s the school-to-prison pipeline system, but also the school-to-military system as well. It’s one or the other.

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BC:  As you’ve already said, hip-hop is a positive thing, and was for you specifically. That being said, is there a side of it that isn’t positive?

Bambu:  I mean there’s a lot of lying in hip-hop. That’s something I don’t need to speak on that much. I think anyone with intelligence knows that half of these cats out there are lying. I’m hoping we don’t believe it. Yeah, it can influence kids. But I don’t think it influences kids more than what’s actually going on in their communities. It’s their life. The problem is that somebody else is getting paid from exploiting them. That is the negative side, and that usually comes with the business side of hip-hop. All of this is very calculated. I don’t think it’s an accident that record labels put money behind and push certain kinds of music.

BC:  As a community organizer, what is the work that you’re involved in?

Bambu:  As of recently, I’ve been working a lot on my music. I did youth and student organizing. I started working for a non-profit that I love dearly called People’s CORE, People’s Community Organization for Reform Empowerment, where we would go out to the community and try to create small people’s organizations and help facilitate that. We would try and find communities that needed us. We’d go in and try to identify issues. The last campaign I worked on with them was a smoke-free multi-unit housing project. We taught about the tobacco industry, how they work, their marketing ploys and things like that. While I’m in Oakland, I’m a full time dad, a “domestic engineer” if you will. My partner, Rocky Rivera, she does a lot of the community organizing. There was one year while I was doing it, and now she’s doing it. We just try and balance it out with being at home with our son. It’s too tough to have two community organizers going full time with a kid. 

BC:  Things must change when you have a child.

Bambu:  Yeah, it definitely puts things into perspective. Even to your ideology and political work.

BC:  How so?

Bambu:  Ideology wise, you start to realize that you gave a shit before. Now that you have a child, you really give a shit now. This means something to you. Not that it didn’t before. It’s hard to explain unless you’ve had a child. You see your child, and you start to genuinely care about what happens in the future. For that reason alone, the way I thought ten years ago compared to now isn’t necessarily different, but it’s more mature.

BC:  What are some of the books that influenced your thinking and that you really learned from?

Bambu:  The first book I ever sat and read, front to back, was in the day room of the Los Padrinos Detention Center. You had the option to either go outside and play basketball or stay inside a read books. I stayed in there and read The Autobiography of Malcolm X by Alex Haley. Wonderful book. I felt like it related to me. This was before even all the hype around the nation (of Islam) through hip-hop and what not. That book made me feel powerful. For a long time I just felt worthless and stupid and dumb. Here was a guy who came from worse conditions and he managed to transform that same energy, not change, but mature that attitude and that energy into something that was structured and uplifting. That was beautiful to me. That’s where little things started to spark in my mind. What I will say is that along the way, hip-hop influenced a lot of my life. Ice Cube’s Death Certificate is an album I praise like some people praise the Bible. I pull verses from it, you know? I wrote a whole song about it on …one rifle per family. It was powerful for me and forced me to read books. It forced me to read Native Son because I was searching, I was looking and that really opened the door for me. Without them, I wouldn’t have even read those books and I’d rather talk about that.

BC:  What are some of those albums?

Bambu:  Kam’s Neva Again blew my mind the first time I heard it. The Coup’s first album, Kill My Landlord, love that album front to back. Let’s Get Free by Dead Prez. As a youth, I would hear what they were rappin’ about, and I’d want to take that bar or line and research it. Where does this come from? Why is it this way? I learned so much before I even traveled the country. I already knew about some of the cultures. I had a sense about the mid-west, northwest and east coast, all because of hip-hop. I understood that there was a different language, but our struggles were the same. Jeru the Damaja’s first album, The Sun Rises in the East, developed my sound so much. I come from a time, in the Freestyle Fellowship era, where rap was a lot of giant words for no reason. I say no reason because I sucked at it. Those brothas, Freestyle Fellowship and Project Blowed did that to the utmost. We were mimicking it, we thought we just had to use giant words just to mimic them. That’s where I came from. Then I listened to things like Mobb Deep’s The Infamous. Prodigy was saying such powerful things with such a short amount of words. He wasn’t killing you with all these bars, just throwin’ em at your face. He would say, “My gun shots’ll make you levitate.” That’s it. That’s all that I needed to know! That was poetic in just one bar. We gotta stop there or I’ll just keep going…

BC:  What was some of the music that was in your house growing up?

Bambu:  Carlos Santana was in my house a lot. My dad was a huge Santana fan. I remember a Tower of Power LP. My mom listened to horrible shit like Doris Day. My mom was corny with that whole music thing.

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BC:  Speaking of family and heritage, can you speak on some of the history of American colonization and how that has affected Filipino-Americans living in the United States but also in the Philippines?

Bambu:  Yeah so the Phillipines was a colonized territory, a strategic launching point, militarily and tradewise. Everyone wanted to be on those set of islands, it was a gateway to the Orient. The United States came in, put their puppet in play and did what they do best; colonize. All this began during the late 1800’s, but the U.S. still has a very strong influence on the islands, monetarily and even through the government. Militarily, the Philippines are very dependent on the United States. Land is getting exploited by companies that stem from the United States. For example, Nestle. All these companies come and what happens is that you force people to leave their homes. There’s nothing there for them anymore, the land is depleted. What you pay them is not enough to survive and the wealth is owned, just like here (the United States), by a very few. So then there’s this move to migrate. The way that it’s connected is that a lot of the money that is being recycled within the Philippines, especially on the neighborhood level, comes from the United States. Now there’s this huge push for tourism in the Philippines, which is just going to fuck the country up. You’re going to allow the Hiltons, which Paris Hilton already has a club there, and the Trumps to build on this land and ultimately push people out and force people into the service industry, and then they won’t have any self-sufficiency.

BC:  Have you been to the Philippines before?

Bambu:  Yeah and I’m going back this December. I try and go once or twice a year.

BC:  That’s cool. What’s it like there?

Bambu:  It’s beautiful. I have kind of a different experience when I go there. Usually when I go home it’s in a performance capacity. What’s great about that is that I have access to a different world while I also have one foot in the organizing community, and I have one foot with the masa, with the people. I can go and see that side, do the work there, and then go to this club in a nicer part of town and perform. I’m privileged to see both worlds. The corrupt, the shitty and you know, the people on the ground.

BC:   Do you see your new album, Party Worker, as a continuation of your previous record, …One rifle per family.?

Bambu:  No, no. If you look at my album catalogue, and this is calculated, I always have ellipses that go with my titles. So if you notice, One Rifle Per Family has a period at the end (…One Rifle Per Family.) because that series of albums is done. I felt like One Rifle was it for me. It didn’t come as naturally to me as it does for a (Brother) Ali or somebody else who’s done this for a while. Making this kind of music took me a long time. To figure out my path, I had to be in a group called Native Guns. I had to learn a lot of things before I could do an album like …One Rifle Per Family. I did it and I was like, “Dope. I said what I wanted to say. That Bambu is done.” Party Worker is a whole new venture. I wrote three versions of this album. The first version I wrote was a party record. It was a lot of party music on stupid ass beats. It was dumb. I had received all of this money from a kickstarter campaign I did. The label (Beat Rock Music) has always taken care of me, so this was the first time money like that was in my account. I was like, “Oh shit, party time!” So I’m writin’ this party music and it was shit. Then I decided to throw the party outside the window and go with the worker. So then I wrote this really pro-union, socialist record that was heavily influenced by punk. And I didn’t like that either. Not that it was a bad record, the party version was horrible, but this worker one wasn’t what I wanted to project. Then I put the two together and realized a rapper is essentially a “party worker.” The DJ is the party and what we do is help them along. Then I said, “What if rappers had a grassroots people’s organization, what would that sound like? What would that meeting sound like?” And that’s all I did.

BC: I totally got that vibe when I listened to it. Some of my favorite moments of the album are the interludes because you really do feel as if you’re sitting and participating in this meeting.

Bambu:  Thank you, man! That’s exactly what I was going for. Conceptually, Party Worker is similar to Barrel Men, the Native Guns album we did. It starts with a kid getting jumped into a gang, and the gang was the Native Guns. He gets jumped into it throughout the album. It goes from this really hard stuff to this more cultural stuff. Party Worker kind of mirrors that through the meeting interludes. I’m very proud of it and I got to work with Phatty, man! I always wanted to work with DJ Phatrick. If you like the album, half of it is all him. I entrusted that album to him. We wrote and we recorded in this hotel. We shut down this hotel floor and we had rooms for recording. My boy Roy Choi hooked it up! He gave us two rooms and we built up this studio in there. I slept, woke up, wrote and recorded there for four days. We had guests come in, we put them on album and it was great.

BC:  So it kind of was like a meeting.

Bambu: It was, it was. And then when I was done with that, I left it in Phatty’s hands and went on tour. The record was really put together by Phatty. I wrote it and he did what I wanted him to do. It was beautiful and I’m very, very proud of that of that record. I’m never doing a kickstarter again, though. Never. That shit was tough. I still haven’t talked to the IRS about it. I can’t wait for that conversation.

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Bonus Cut Presents: An Interview With Open Mike Eagle

 

The past year has been good to L.A. art-rapper Open Mike Eagle. Dark Comedy, his fourth album, was released this past June to much critical acclaim. Due to this, his already loyal fan-base has grown and continues to do so. Having signed a multi-album deal with Mello Music Group, we can expect even more from Mike as we transition into 2015. Whether you listen to Dark Comedy, an earlier project such as Unapologetic Art Rap (2010) or are familiar with his work with HellFyre Club and Project Blowed, Mike’s music has a way of blending melancholy with moments of hilarity and reality that are political, funny and downright intelligent. His Podcast, Secret Skin, combines these elements, giving the listener unique insight into the business side of hip-hop that is expertly mixed with priceless tour stories and other humorous anecdotes.

Speaking from the grisly depths of the Mac’s Bar basement in Lansing, Michigan, I expected him to have an energetic personality because, as he explains in the interview, I had bought into the aesthetic he created as an artist. Mike was very upfront about some of the occupational realities of being an independent MC. For example, you need to know the lay of the land when it comes to booking a show and setting up a tour. Additionally, making music comes with familial and financial responsibilities, something that didn’t exist in the same way when he was a young twenty-something. He spoke candidly about these realities, and how they serve as motivation. As we transitioned to more important topics, popular culture, tour stories and his natural comedic self instantly came to life. What I learned from Mike is that rapping and being on the road is still fun for him, but there’s more to it now. Additionally, I reaffirmed the thought that at some point, I’d like to go on tour, or a long road trip, in order to compile hilarious stories about places that no one has ever heard of. As a fan of Open Mike Eagle, it was an honor to have the chance to pick his brain and hear what he had to say.

Bonus Cut (BC):  You got started on the road, kind of paving your own way, right?

Open Mike Eagle (OME):  It wasn’t that I was making my own way. It was that I was pledging allegiance to the cause and operationally learning how things work. On my first tour, I literally followed Busdriver and Abstract Rude in my own vehicle, not getting paid anything for the shows and just trying to make money off merch. That was the start of my career more than anything else. Showing them, the promoters and audiences, that I was dedicated enough to do that opened up everything. Or began to open up everything.

BC:  Just showin’ up?

OME:  Yes. Showin’ up, executing, not complaining and learning the machinery.

BC:  What’s the machinery?

OME:  In that sense, the machinery was having lines into promoters and knowing where and how to book your tour. It was me learning how artists work with agents and how artists without agents work with promoters. Some of those same promoters brought me back when I started to get out on my own. Understanding how you had to be prepared promotionally as an artist. I have to have my own imaging, a flyer design. I have to know if I’m booking a show, who’s the best local talent to have on the bill that will bring more people and make the show make sense. It’s all of those different things. The other side of it is that maybe you get a major deal right off the top and let other people figure it out. Or, you get super good on the Internet, go the Youtube route, build a following that way and let other people figure it out. For an independent musician, on the DIY tip, you have to learn how all these different moving parts work together or how that attempts to equal success.

BC:  So it’s showin’ up, building relationships and not complaining?

OME:  Not complaining and executing. Trying to take the lessons onto the next run. Trying to build fan bases in different markets…

BC:  Does that change at all now that you’re a headliner?

OME:  Right now my strength is more in putting out more product at the platform level I have so I can attract more ears. I have management now. I have booking now. Now that those things are in place, I can really focus on making the strongest product possible and bring more people to the table.

BC:  Do you pay booking and management out of pocket?

OME:  That’s the thing. Most of the components of the music business, at least in my experience, is that everybody kind of pays for themselves. If a booker feels like they won’t make any money with you then they won’t book you. If a manager feels like they won’t make any money working with you, then they won’t work with you. Everybody kind of brings opportunity to the table so that we can all eat.

BC:  Is being a rapper lucrative for you?

OME:  I’m not making as much money as my last job that used my degree. But I’m making a decent amount of money. There are rappers that make a lot of money. Not even all the mainstream artists. There’s a lot of rappers that people don’t even really know about, but their business is set up right. There’s still a lot of money to be made in selling music. Digitial, physical and otherwise. There’s licensing and a lot of different revenue streams. It’s never going to be like it was when people were buying lot’s of CDs, but it’s still a billion dollar industry and believe, it trickles down in all kinds of ways.

BC:  Are you trying to license your music?

OME:  Always. Every independent artist should be trying to do that. There’s a lot of movies, television and people who want music, but don’t want to pay for what mainstream music costs. People should consider that as a revenue stream for sure.

BC:  Do you miss home when you’re on tour and vice versa?

OME:  Yeah I do but being on the road is such an important part of my job. You kind of have to turn down the natural, human emotions about missing home. If I stay home, I’m not working as hard or making as much money as I could be and things like that. On tour I’m getting paid to perform, selling my music to people and reaching new audiences in that way. There’s a real benefit to pounding the pavement if it’s set up right.

BC:  Do you have to practice your raps?

OME:  If I haven’t done a song in awhile I have to go over it. When I first started constructing the set that I have now-as much as it pained me to do it at first-I realized it was a good idea to practice my performance at home. Just turn it on, not look at it and just do all the songs. It’s just a muscle memory thing. I don’t have to, but it helps me to stay sharp.

BC:  Does that mean you go back and listen to your music?

OME:  I listen to my music a lot when I’m making it. Before I share anything that I’ve made with anyone, my management, the producer I made it with, anybody, I’ve heard it 50 times at least. By the time something is an album of mine, those songs I’ve heard hundreds of times. Usually by the time it’s out, I’ve stopped listening to it. I like to distance myself from it emotionally.

 

BC:  At this point, rapping isn’t just a hobby for you. This is a job.

OME:  Yep, this is it.

BC:  With that, how do you balance hip-hop being something that you love but that it’s also a job?

OME:  I mean I get paid more the better I do at it. Even just in terms of it being something that satisfies me. The more pure of a vision I can have, it’s better all the way around. I’m not in a position where it would suit me to try and do what other people are doing. Except in the licensing world, that helps. In terms of my appeal, my music selling and people coming out to shows, the closer I can get to what I’ve built as my own aesthetic, the more successful the projects and the songs are. To me, I don’t have to balance anything. I just have to go even harder.

BC:  Given that, where do you see yourself in five years?

OME:  Ummmm…on television.

BC:  Speaking of T.V., are you a fan of the show Community?

OME:  The first two seasons, definitely. I didn’t watch too much after that, I don’t know if it got any worse. I stopped watching NBC’s Thursday nights when The Office went away. I love Parks & Rec, but The Office was the thing that anchored me to that night. I wasn’t able to keep up.

BC:  I had to ask about Community because my friend loves the “Inspector Spacetime” line in your song, “Middling.”

OME:  No doubt! The first two seasons, I was all about it, man!

BC:  What are some of the shows you’re watching right now that you think have the best writing?

OME:  I really enjoy Veep. I think Veep is an incredible television show. I really enjoyed Fargo this year. True Detective was great. Breaking Bad was amazing.

BC:  It’s weird thinking about how Breaking Bad only just ended this year. It’s been a long year.

OME:  Starting with Lost, I’ve kind of always had a television show to come back to. Now I kinda don’t [that Breaking Bad is over]…Ohhhh! I’m trippin.’ I forgot about House of Cards and Orange is the New Black! Personally, I love both of those shows. Binge watchin’ all day.

BC:  Yes! I can’t get over Kevin Spacey in House of Cards.

OME:  Oh yeah, he’s amazing!

BC:  Do you have a memorable tour story you don’t tell often?

OME:  I performed in a barn once. That was a crazy story. There’s this town outside of Fresno where for some reason there’s this weird, strange pocket of underground hip-hop fans and they booked this tour I was on. I wasn’t in a position to get much information on where we were playing and when we showed up, it was literally a three walled barn in the middle of a field. It was nighttime and we did our show at a barn, with a generator and it was very fucking frightening. There were no bathrooms or anything. I remember at one point, I had to go piss. I was walking out to the field to piss and I heard some animal. It sounded like a howl or bark, and I just walked back to the barn. I didn’t even pee. I didn’t know what to do. You know, you just end up at a barn sometimes.

BC:  Show up, it’s just what you do!

OME:  That’s right, and you don’t complain when you’re drinkin’ beers out of a station wagon, know what I mean? Just do it, just try not to do it again.

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Bonus Cut Poetry: “Work in progress: part II” by Abby Conklin

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This is Bonus Cut Poetry, a series that features original poems by Bonus Cut staff, artists and YOU! In this series, our mission is to bring people together in poetry, share stories and display wonderful artistic pieces. If you would like to have your poems in the next Bonus Cut Poetry installment, just email us at bonuscut@gmail.com

This installment features Bonus Cut’s
own Abby Conklin.

Work in progress: part II
By: Abby Conklin 

I strapped up with wings
called myself a hero
and jumped off the roof
like I had urgent business
at the bottom.  When I drink enough,
I disconnect from the vodka,
like you with your wedding
ring, dangling like a fuck you
to the women to come.
One day, maybe I’ll feel lucky
enough to be questionably lucky,
sleeping in the same bed as someone
I can endure the morning after
being unconscious after
a day of being human after
pretending to know lots of things
in actuality I don’t. I tried
to check my bags at the door.
I tried to fall down, drunk.  I tried
to knock, walk in, and sit down
without making a fuss over the size
of the cushion on the chair,
and the clots of dust along its dimples.
I know all the words this time,
I swear.  Sweat it out with me.
I love you.

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The Gospel of King Kendrick Lamar

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photo credit: karencivil.com

By: Justin Cook

Kendrick Lamar’s presence speaks for itself. The man is a poetic, and artistic, genius. No one else in this current formation of the universe has bars like Lamar. For a lot of hip-hop heads, he is the best emcee that has graced the mic in a long ass time; some even go as far as calling him the “resurrection of Tupac” or the “savior of hip-hop.” It’s like he’s on some Jesus-level shit, or a secret Super Saiyan, or possibly The One who will rescue us from The Matrix. I really don’t think anyone else could get away with having such an otherworldly, almost godlike, reputation. Kendrick is that dude. And in all honesty, he deserves it. The man has been laying down solid tracks since day one, when he still went under his original moniker, K-Dot. Now, I don’t like to claim anyone to be the “greatest,” but without a doubt, Kendrick is sure to be one of the greats, and I will break down why in this week’s installment of “The Poetry Of Kendrick Lamar.”

“Fuck Your Ethnicity” [Section.80]

This was the first song I heard by Kendrick Lamar, and still stands as one of my absolute favorites. The beat, the lyrics, and Kendrick’s peculiar flow: all a testament to the man’s wizardry with words. The opening lines always send a shiver down my spine: “Fire burning inside my eyes, this the music that save my life/ Ya’ll be calling it hip-hop, I be calling it hypnotize.” From that point forward, I’m straight hypnotized, rocking to the beat, awaiting the next sequence of powerful imagery. The way Kendrick moves from line to line through metaphor and double-speak is quite brilliant:

“My details be retail, man I got so much in store/ Racism is still alive, yellow tape and colored lines/ Fuck that, nigga look at that line, it’s so diverse/ They getting off work and they wanna see Kendrick/ Everybody can’t drive Benz’s and I been there/ So I make it my business to give’em my full attention, ten-hut!”

These bars are proof that Kendrick is “kicking that math, dropping that science like an alchemist.” They’re pure gold, shining like an angel. Good God Kendrick Lamar! This “business” is the scripture. I love how he flips “yellow tape and colored lines,” referring to crime, violence, and racial boundaries, with “look at that line, it’s so diverse,” referring to the people lining up to see Kendrick live; these folks break the “yellow tape and colored lines” and come together through the power of hip-hop. And as Kendrick has thoroughly “detailed” in this song, he’s about the give the people his full love and attention. Hallelujah!

“Faith” [Kendrick Lamar EP]

This song is just real as fuck, simple as that. It doesn’t use any elaborate metaphors or word play to impress the listener. It simply speaks universal truths of the human experience: struggle, death, temptation, and the power of faith. At its core, this song is all about maintaining in the face of adversity. Kendrick highlights his own struggles of gaining faith despite being “a person that never believed in religion,” but also extends out into a wider narrative: the struggle of black oppression. This oppression is intimately described in the second verse, which begins “Single black parent from Compton raising children of 4/ That’s 4 innocent bastards cause Papa they don’t know.” I love the way Kendrick blends his narrative seamlessly with the narrative of his people, or in other words, using his own experiences to speak about greater social and economic struggles. We need more of this in not only the hip-hop community, but also in the greater reality of humankind. This song is truly a beautiful piece of poetry that reminds us “the next time you feel like your world’s about to end/ I hope you studied because He’s testing your faith again.

“Cartoon & Cereal”

The whole aesthetic of this song is unreal. It’s so menacing, dark, and bleak—the feeling of a tortured existence. This aesthetic in and of itself speaks volumes. The track, aptly named “Cartoon & Cereal,” details Kendrick’s paradoxical childhood in Compton: “Now I was raised in a sandbox, next to you and her/ You was holding the handgun, she was giving birth.” Just those opening lines display the lyrical mastery of Kendrick Lamar. This “sandbox” comes to represent the whole of Compton, a small section of L.A. where life expectancy for young men is quite young, due to gang violence, lack of resources, drug addiction, and systematic oppression. These men never quite grow up, or grow out of this oppression, leaving them as children trapped in a metaphorical “sandbox.” The next line referring to the “handgun” and “giving birth” represents the vicious cycle that perpetuates this oppression. The handgun symbolisms the absent father, who is presumably out gangbanging instead of watching his child being born; the fact that it is a “handgun” invokes the idea that this violence is “handed” down from father to son, a reoccurring theme throughout the song. On the other hand, literally, we see a mother giving birth. The concept of birth, which gives life through spilling blood, juxtaposed with the notion of systemic violence, reinforces the issue that black bodies are born INTO a cycle of oppression, which they themselves did not create. Rather, it is a creation of the State and perpetuated by social institutions such as prisons, media outlets, and government. As Kendrick comments, cartoons and cereal represent unhealthy food and mindless entertainment; these are the new “Opiates of the Masses” that allow us to be continually controlled by the powers at be.

“Holy Ghost (Remix) [Ft. Kendrick Lamar]”

I’m not a big fan of Young Jeezy, but I had to include this jam on my list. Kendrick snaps on this shit right here. Similar to the menacing vibe we find on “Cartoon & Cereal,” this remix again shows us Kendrick’s dark side. At first listen, this may seem like another rap song glorifying sex, money, and drugs, but it is actually the exact opposite. To me, it reads more like the struggle of maintaining your faith and positivity while living in a Capitalist world full of temptation: the Lexus, Rolexes, sexting, and beaucoup bucks. It’s a song where we can see Kendrick expressing his anger and frustration in being a hip-hop superstar and role model. It’s a side we rarely see of Kendrick, but one I believe is just as honest, and important, as his positive side.

I also highlighted this track for its use of sound and intricate structure. First off, the assonance and alliteration carry this verse through. It’s almost unreal how slippery the sounds are: “Tee-Tee and Tiana sexting/ Teepees and mansions I rest in/ Two T’s and Top Dawg impress with/ TV’s that play their investment…” That shit is wild. It’s so damn smooth, almost like driving in the back of a Rolls Royce Phantom Ghost. On top of all that, the whole verse is syncopated the exact same way; it’s straight mathematical. To carry the same flow throughout sixteen bars is harder than it may seem. On top of that, there are four lyrical “breaks” in Kendrick’s flow, signifying the next onslaught of poetic genius, all end with the same rhyme: burn, turn, vrrrrrm, learn. Most emcees can’t even come close to this kind of artistry and attention to detail, further proof of Kendrick’s lyrical mastery.

“Poe Man’s Dreams (His Vice)” [Section.80]

“Smoke good, eat good, live good. Smoke good, eat good, live good…”

This is the jam. A song you can just chill out and vibe to. After a long day of stressing, this is the track I can rely on to level me out. Again, it’s Kendrick spitting some wisdom, and he’s not being flashy about it: “I know some rappers using big words to make their similes curve/ My simple as shit be more pivotal.” Just sit back and listen. Plus, GLC’s verse on the outro is crazy. This is the Gospel. Cathedral!

“Sing About Me, I’m Dying of Thirst” [Good Kid, M.A.A.D. City]

This is hands down my favorite song by Kendrick Lamar. Actually, it’s one of my favorite songs of all time. It’s a masterpiece. It’s so raw. I could listen to it over and over again, all day, everyday. Within the narrative of Good Kid M.A.A.D. City, this song serves as an important, and intimate, moment. In each verse, Kendrick embodies a different voice—the third being his own—which shed light on the harsh realities of living in Compton. It’s just a beautiful song, spilling with great line after great line. And that beat! It’s so damn smooth. Plus, I love how the beat parallels the narrative, adding another layer of poetics. For example, the gunshots at the end of the first verse, which kills the speaker who can’t fully express what he “hopes” for, always tugs at my emotions; or, at the end of the second verse when the vocals fade away, despite the speaker who insists, she will never fade away. That shit is hard and gives this whole song another dimension of artistry. Plus, it seamlessly transitions into “I’m Dying of Thirst,” which illustrates the struggle of material vs. spiritual gain. Time to hop in that water and pray that it works.

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