Category Archives: Features

A Bonus Cut Feature: An Interview With Ess Be and Sareem Poems

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By: Gus Navarro

Photo Credit: Carla Hernandez

Whether you’re talking sports, music or some other scenario, there is nothing quite like the tandem between a veteran and a rookie. Bringing past experiences to the table, the veteran can share knowledge and insight gained through the years. As a relative newcomer, the rookie has a lot to learn but is also an invaluable asset, equipped with a fresh perspective and new ideas. On their new EP, Beautiful Noise, Sareem Poems and Ess Be harness this dynamic to the fullest. Originally from Los Angeles, Sareem Poems has been rapping and making music with his group, LA Symphony, for over a decade. In short, he’s been around the block a few times. On the other hand, Lansing native Ess Be is still a relative newcomer to the world of hip-hop. Ess Be may be “new” to the game, but his summer EP, Bag Fries, demonstrates his versatility.

Beautiful Noise finds both artists at different points in their lives. Despite that, it is the commonalities that bring them together. Representing the Lansing based AOTA hip-hop collective, they see this project as a step towards making music full time. For Sareem, it’s about returning to that. For Ess Be, it’s about stepping into that arena for the first time. Released via Illect Recordings, Beautiful Noise features Ess Be’s production and incorporates live instrumentation, adding depth and energy to an already strong project. Thematically, Beautiful Noise is driven by messages of perseverance and of working to redefine the ways in which we think about personal wealth. In speaking with them on the development of Beautiful Noise, it is clear they learned a lot from each other and about themselves. It is never too late to grow as individuals and to change your perceptions of the world around us. On Beautiful Noise, Sareem Poems and Ess Be remind us of this

Bonus Cut (BC): How did Beautiful Noise come to be?

Ess Be (EB): When I met Sareem I actually didn’t tell him I made music. Eventually, one of my boys mentioned it. At that point I’d been workin’ on making music for awhile but was actually thinking about stopping. Once I started talking to Sareem a bit more he asked me to send him some beats. I sent him some joints, he let me know how he felt about them and asked me to do an EP with him.

Sareem Poems (SP): There’s a difference between beatmakers and producers, and a lot times people lump them together. When I first heard Ess Be’s beats, I thought they were dope. But he also showed me what he’s produced. For example, he’s got EDM under his belt. That proved to me that he has more than just boom-bap or straight forward hip-hop tracks. When I heard the spectrum of what he can do, I knew it was going to be a great project to work on. 

Bonus Cut: How does the veteran and rookie dynamic play out between the two of you?

SP: My whole goal behind doing the EP with Ess Be was to give him a chance to fully use what he’s capable of in one project. His versatility shows throughout the project. His style and how good he is. All I did was bring my ability of song writing to the table and he produced the tracks.

EB:  Being an up and coming producer, it was weird that a veteran MC would want to work with someone who really doesn’t have a catalogue. I had never done a full project, so Sareem played a huge part in pushing me to complete the EP. Just to have someone believe in me and show me some things about creating a project has been amazing. I’m very appreciative for Sareem for the knowledge, wisdom and encouragement he’s given me.

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BC:  What have you learned from the whole process of making Beautiful Noise?

SP:  Throughout this process, I’ve learned that no matter how long you feel that you’ve been doing something, there’s always something new that you can learn. From Ess Be, I’ve learned to look at music as an outsider instead of being an artist. Ess Be is a fan of a lot of different types of music and I had to work on just getting back to appreciating music. I got back to giving things a full listen and becoming a fan again.

EB: Throughout this process I’ve learned about not just making songs, but making music. Anybody can have a song, but not everyone can make music. It stretched me during the creation process. There would be nights where I’d just be up late, ti’l two or three in the morning, tryin’ to figure out what needed to be added or taken away from each song. It’s different when you’re making music for somebody else versus just a beat for yourself. It was a growing experience because it stretched me to think outside the box and to push my personal work ethic.

SP: Yes. Makin’ a project is harder than most people think! It sounds cliche, but hard work and diligence pays off. Especially because neither of us are full time artists.

BC: Right, and you both have other jobs and commitments.

SP:  That’s right. I’ve got a full time gig and a son. If you put that on top of the music stuff, it’s tough sometimes. At the end of the day, you want the music you make to come out and have a big impact, but you also don’t want to take away from your normal life. Making music isn’t my everyday right now, but I want to get back to a point where it is.

BC:  And for you Sareem, Beautiful Noise is the first step to getting back to making music full time. For Ess Be, the project is moving you in the direction of becoming a full time artist.

SP:  Absolutely.

EB:  Yes, exactly!

SP:  That’s the goal, man. I took a long break. January of 2015 will officially be four years since I’ve put anything out. It’s been a minute, but it was a good, much needed break. There needed to be a recalibration in my approach to music. I needed to figure out how I can have an impact without trying to fit into any particular mode.

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BC:  Can you speak a little on your relationship with the record label?

SP:  We’re putting the project out via Illect Recordings. They’ve worked with Theory Hazit, Scribbling Idiots, Imperial, Sivion and some other cats. They’re making moves in a very good direction and I’m proud to be a part of the team. Shout out to Josh Niemyjsk who runs the label! His work ethic it out of control and inspires me, man. He’s puttin’ in work all the time.

BC:  What would both of you say are some of the major themes in the record?

EB: I feel like the common theme in the project is perseverance. The record is mad encouraging. Not to speak ill of some of the cats in music right now, but it’s definitely time for something different to be heard. Something that’s encouraging, uplifting and motivating. Just hearing the same stuff, time after time, after time, can start to desensitize people. We want this music to push people forward through pain from the past, and to help them understand their self-worth. We’re hoping we do it in a way that everyone can relate to and connect with. I hope that with the music I was a part of making, people will hear it and be able to travel to a different place mentally.

SP: For me, a lot of it has to be do with not staying stagnant. They call it the past for a reason, know what I mean? We’re living in the present, but at the same time, you gotta have a medium. You can’t let the future be the driving force because it ain’t here yet. If you’re chasin’ the future, and you don’t fully know what the future is going to be, you’re just going to keep chasing random things. A lot of the songs on the EP are about moving forward and climbing to a higher state of being. Whatever that is for you. A lot of people in society are obsessed with material things. The main thing for me is about being rich with time. I had to redefine what wealth was for me. You can have all the money in the world, but if I’m able to live and not worry then I don’t need millions. That’s a goal for me and you’ll hear that in the music.

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Hip-Hop Theory: Why It’s Important to Understand Drill (Part One)

via Consequence of Sound

Chief Keef via Consequence of Sound

By: Daniel Hodgman

Chief Keef (Keith Cozart) burst onto the scene in 2012 as one of Chicago hip-hop’s premier figures conspicuously driven by a new emerging sound. At the time, Keef was an Internet sensation from the Englewood neighborhood and a product of hip-hop’s swelling and congealing drill scene. Defined by dark nihilistic trap-influenced production and auto-tuned verses recapping the daily on Chicago’s streets, Chief Keef and the drill scene as a whole not only took the Southside of Chicago by storm, but hip-hop as well. By 2013, Keef was part of XXL’s Freshman Class, signed to Gucci Mane’s 1017 Brick Squad Records, and on his 18th birthday he released the highly anticipated Bang, Pt. 2 mixtape, further pushing his name and influence around the spectrum. Other artists from this scene such as Fredo Santana, Lil Herb, Lil Durk, Lil Reese, King Louie, and Young Chop, have walked similar paths, and as of 2015, drill still stands as a major Chicago staple that has attracted the likes of Kanye West, Common, and Drake, while major labels continue to poach these Windy City artists for contracts.

With everything drill brings, there’s a lot of controversy behind the sub-genre, and it isn’t all that complicated. The scene itself is greatly defined by rough and raw lyricism that casts a dark and violent shadow on the listener. The subject matter stretches from hitting enemies in the streets to rapping about “bitches” and “thots” to glorifying murder and living a gritty lifestyle. The production that backs these artists takes from the new-wave trap-scene that made artists like Gucci Mane and T.I. successful. And although drill beats are usually slower in tempo, playing almost like a sub-genre to trap itself, there are 808s and southern sounds there as well to draw a clear relation. Mix this with the deadpan and auto-tuned lyricism of these artists and you now have a unique mixture on your hands, something that not everyone stands for. Local Chicago rapper Rhymefest was quoted as saying, drill is “the theme music to murder.”

On “’Til I Meet Selena,” King Louie raps about “riding around like Rambo”:

“Niggas ain’t nothing/ They just talking shit up/ Catch ‘em while he walking/ Now they chalking shit up/ Get your ass a motherfucking candle, memorial/ Put ‘em on that motherfucking table, cut em open, autopsy/ T-shirt R.I.P.”

If you look at hip-hop’s recent past, it’s clear that it has gravitated away from the gangsta rap characteristics that legends N.W.A. and Scarface grasped and relayed to the public so well. With Chicago’s drill scene, we now have this new-age gangsta rap sub-genre, with a completely different sound somehow trying to have the same takeaway as hip-hop’s past. With that you have to ask: does Chicago’s drill scene merely reinforce negative hip-hop stereotypes? Or does it reflect the voices of these neighborhoods and accurately portray America’s ongoing problem with segregation, social, and political injustice?

A couple of years ago (2012), Chicago rapper Joseph “Lil Jojo” Coleman, who was only 18, was shot and killed in Chicago. He was a drill artist, but also one that was feuding with Chief Keef. After the news of Lil Jojo’s death, Keef took to twitter in a joking manner: “Its Sad Cuz Dat Nigga Jojo Wanted To Be Jus Like Us #LMAO.”

This event prompted even more heads to turn, and the drill backlash was gaining steam. Hip-hop critic Henry Adaso went as far as to call Keef “garbage wrapped in human skin,” and there were police investigations linking Keef and his crew to Lil Jojo’s death. Compounded on all of this was the name association game, which quickly spread. With mentions of Chief Keef, drill, or even Chicago hip-hop, people from around the hip-hop world looked at this with anger, often ignoring the genre altogether. But with all of this, people missed the bigger picture.

It’s not that hard to look at drill and raise your hand, object, and walk away. In fact, as a hip-hop head still growing up and learning the whole enchilada, this is what I initially did myself. If you look at drill’s deadpan, often mumbled bars of violence and hatred without metaphor, you could deduce that the repetitive nature of such music is careless and without meaning. To the casual listener, you could throw on a down-tempo trap beat and some lyrics that spray about “pistol toting” (“I Don’t Like” –Chief Keef) and dismiss it. In fact, that would be the easy and normal thing to do. But past the surface it’s important for not just detractors, but all of hip-hop, to look at drill from an introspective standpoint, and where it comes from, because there is a direct correlation between drill music and where Chicago stands in the hot bed of America.

As with any city, Chicago takes pride in identity and self-worth. It’s strong here though, and just like cities such as Detroit and Oakland, Chicago manifests itself in a “power to the people” attitude. Of the thousands of labels, record heads, Kanye West’s, and big wigs crawling back to Chicago to pick up and sign Chief Keef or Lil Herb, none of them were loyal to the artists before the local Chicagoans. This included a mixture of children relaying the lyrics in the halls of Chicago Public Schools, to the kids on the corner, hoping one day to brand themselves like their idols and escape a plight they never asked for. In the neighborhoods where drill originated (Southlawn, Englewood, Gresham) and the neighborhoods under similar circumstances, drill isn’t so much an anthem for murder, but rather an anthem for their communities. Tremaine “Tree” Johnson is a rapper from Englewood, and although he isn’t directly tied to the drill scene, he takes note of its popularity, especially when talking about Chief Keef.

“He looks like us, he sounds like us, and his lingo is what we say and how we talk.”

It’s with this swelling appreciation and connectedness to identity that has Southside teenagers gravitating towards drill, but is that enough to justify its position in hip-hop?

The imagery and content for one is still a standalone case for shutting the genre down in its entirety. But if you look at the actual artists coming from this scene, they’re simply figureheads resonating with a growing population of Chicago suffering from the city’s social and political issues that continue to keep these certain communities down and out. If you look at why school kids in Englewood are blasting Lil Durk, wouldn’t it be safe to assume that to them Lil Durk is simply one of them, someone who has and is still suffering from the growing systemic issues surrounding this city?

The counterpoint to this would be that drill helps influence the city’s violence. Many have even considered drill to be the main proponent. And although drill has pushed the term “Chiraq,” there’s a reason to look past this. First, Chicago’s history of violence stands long before drill was even a thought. If you want to count statistics, just look at Chicago’s murder rate now compared to the 90s. When Chief Keef was born in 1995, Chicago accounted for 828 murders. In 2014, the rate was at 432 (what’s hidden behind these statistics is that the homicides in Chicago are happening more frequently within certain neighborhoods, which is becoming more of a problem). The open-and-shut case however is this: before the emergence of Chief Keef and drill, Chicago’s murder rates were for the most part ignored by outsiders and the city’s dwellers alike. However, with the rise of these artists from the drill scene, people are taking notice. It may not be in the brightest sense that drill is being the target for this, but without it, there would never have been a spike in national awareness regarding Chicago’s ongoing problem with violence.

On Lil Herb’s “4 Minutes Of Hell, Part 4,” we can see how drill’s artists resonate with something bigger than just the music. With a tone that bombards louder than the usual drill artist, over a beat that supplements more than just an 808 kick, Lil Herb goes off:

“I’m from the jungle, lions apes and gorillas, lions the police/ Nigga we the apes and gorillas, go ape and gorilla/ Boy, don’t turn your face on a killer/ Fuck the system man, we going back to racism nigga/ Look, the department suffer from fake-ism nigga/ Black police try not to notice, like they ain’t killing niggas and hate killing niggas/ Seen a million bodies, I done shed a thousand tears/ Niggas just turn thousandaires, been selling rocks a thousand years.”

With thunderous force, Lil Herb continues, reflecting on where he is (“posted on that curb, boy”), what could come of him and his surroundings (“it’s a lot of times when I know I coulda been threw in a hearse”), and his direct response to the situation he’s been put in (“so I’m dropping 4s in my soda everytime I’m through with a verse”).

More than most, “4 Minutes Of Hell, Part 4” is drill’s shove-it to the critics and outsiders. It’s no more a throwaway track than it is a window to the looking glass on some of Chicago’s ignored neighborhoods. “And I won’t let that finish me,” Herb catches on the aforementioned track. “Cause I got too much energy.”

Whether you condone the violent and volatile nature of drill, or look at it from a lens that dismisses the very notion of it, there’s no denying the genre’s identity and place within Chicago and its ongoing evolution in the hip-hop sphere. What may be “garbage wrapped in human skin” to some is the daily life and grind for others, a small testament to those who don’t have a chance to share it over the airwaves. And despite drill’s push on negative stereotypes, such as the term “Chiraq” and gang violence, at the very core its music is a representation of those alienated and ignored by this country. Whereas news outlets would rather report about these neighborhoods from outside city lines, drill artists are there living it, and their music is the prompt.

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Experiments in Hip-Hop: Rock ‘n’ Hop

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By: Justin Cook

I think it’s safe to say that a lot of emcees take inspiration from Rock ‘n’ Roll. Sprouting from Delta Blues, pioneered by artists such as Muddy Waters and Howlin’ Wolf, Rock ‘n’ Roll revolutionized American music throughout the 50’s and 60’s. Much like hip-hop, Rock music began primarily in Black communities until appropriated by White artists, the most famous being Elvis Presley, which allowed it to spread around the globe. But the parallels do not stop there: bravado, rebellion, and the struggle, find themselves at the core of these two genres. In this installment of “Experiments in Hip-Hop”, I will highlight some artists that are blurring the boundaries between hip-hop and Rock ‘n’ Roll to create a new, and dare I say revolutionary, sound.

1.) Death Grips

Death Grips is fucking insane, absolutely wild. They truly channel the Spirit of Not-Giving-a-Single-Fuck. Led by MC Ride, and backed by the legendary Zach Hill on drums, Death Grips sound like nothing you’ve ever heard before; they are hip-hop meets noise-rock meets industrial meets drone meets a static apocalypse. This is a combination of genres I never thought could come together. But somehow, Death Grips manages to pull it off—or at least, they manage to most of the time. You definitely have to be in the right mood to bump, or more appropriately, to blast their albums. This is not your everyday, sit and listen hip-hop; this is stretching the sonic boundaries of a genre that is, for the most part, musically accessible. Add this with their general “Fuck You” attitude toward the record industry (I’m thinking No Love Deep Web), and you begin to understand the chaos, and beauty, that is Death Grips.

2.) Rage Against the Machine

There’s no way I can talk about Rock inspired hip-hop without giving praise to Rage Against the Machine. They are one of the first, and arguably one of the best, bands to ever blend these two genres. They are angry. Political. Radical. And their music has so much force, so much power, you can almost feel the Institution slowly crumbling to dust; it shakes the very foundation of American society. Lead by Chicano front man Zach de la Rocha, who is connected with several left-wing movements, such as the Zapatistas in Mexico, Rage Against the Machine aligns themselves with the likes of other political hip-hop groups such as Public Enemy, Dead Prez, and Immortal Technique. But, unlike these more traditional artists, Rage makes use of live instrumentation to create what some call “metal rap” or “heavy funk.” With the combination of their politically charged lyrics, their monstrous riffs, and their absolutely raw sound, Rage Against the Machine, and their message, will echo throughout the ages.

3.) dälek

dälek (pronounced ‘Die-a-leck’) is a hip-hop duo comprised of MC dälek, who takes care of all the vocals, and Oktopus, the producer and live DJ. Their sound is dark, brooding, noisy, and atmospheric, with undertones of post-rock and shoegaze; at times, it doesn’t even sound like you’re listening to hip-hop music. Some have even argued that dälek shouldn’t be classified as such because of their experimental production. But then MC dälek comes in, with an almost spoken-word delivery, to drop some knowledge, and you just vibe with it. His lyrics are often cryptic but revolve around radical themes quite similar to the likes of Death Grips and Rage Against the Machine; they touch on the political, the spiritual, and everywhere in between. Despite the criticisms, MC dälek has confidently stated that they are hip-hop “in the purest sense” since the culture is “all about digging in different crates and finding different sounds, and finding different influences to create [beats from].” I whole-heartedly agree and dig dälek’s experimental tendencies, both sonically and lyrically.

4.) Gangrene

Gangrene is composed of The Alchemist and Oh No, two are my favorite producers in the game right now. They pride themselves on making the weirdest, psychedelic hip-hop you’ve even heard, which is appropriate given the title of their two biggest singles: “Take Drugs” and “Vodka & Ayahuasca”. For those of you who are unfamiliar, ayahuasca is an herbal brew that is used by indigenous peoples across South America for spiritual purposes; the main active ingredient in ayahuasca is dimethyltryptamine, which has been deemed “The Spirit Molecule” by psychonauts and scientists alike. Though they sample riffs from a wide range of music, their beats are strongly influenced by Rock ‘n’ Roll and blues. At times, their music can be quite heavy, and noisy for that matter, as if they were channeling the spirit of Jimi Hendrix. On top of their unique production, Gangrene always recruits great-featured artists, such as Kool G Rap, Raekwon, Prodigy, and Guilty Simpson. Definitely a unique duo reimagining the boundaries between hip-hop and Rock ‘n’ Roll.

5.) Why?

Another project of the prolific Jonathan “Yoni” Wolf (of cLOUDDEAD and Hymie’s Basement). Why? stands at the forefront of indie rock hip-hop. Unlike the artists mentioned above, Why? tends to be less heavy; they definitely draw more influence from folk music as opposed to traditional Rock ‘n’ Roll. Regardless, they still have a unique, and refreshing, sound that redefines what is and isn’t hip-hop. They are poppy, but not too poppy; they are goofy, but still have an unapologetic rawness. Plus, Yoni is one hell of an emcee. His lyrics are packed full of honesty, as well as, beautiful imagery and wordplay. I guarantee he’ll impress even the most traditional hip-hop heads with his odd, almost deadpan, delivery and curious observations. Why? definitely takes hip-hop in a different direction than most, but with an open mind, and a close ear, they will surprise you their sound again and again.

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Bonus Cut Poetry: “Digby, 1” by Abby Conklin

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Digby, 1
By: Abby Conklin 

In my dream,
we are racing along the side
of a dark green edge
of the basin, past where
the scrawny salmon fisheries
have left their rubber crowns,
drifting,
on the salt surface.
The ferry comes through the gut
from the Fundy, between
rocks’ steep gray scales.
Quiet is different, here- only
the ship’s moan of the horn hangs
in the air. As if here, there is never
too much space for the not human.
While the United States exerts
every measurable force against
the wiles of nature, the Canadian
government,
people,
its very national flesh,
have calmly consented to being
cowed by the Earth.
“Don’t mind us,” say the standard-shift
cars, as they bend between swells
of lands carved, in turn, by glacier,
wind,
and time. Erosion,
in its purist form, without pollution
or loggings’ getting involved.
No, here, it makes sense
that water, coupled with sharp
winter air, would rinse layer after layer
from the skeleton that is the land,
until it is nakedly shivering
against its own flat self, as the ferry
slips between, and we run on
towards home.

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Bonus Cut Presents: An Interview With Red Pill

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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, had put out The Kick with Hir-O in January and Ugly Heroes was just being released. 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, Look What This World Did To Us. 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 the new album addresses? 

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

vinyl-collection

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

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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