Category Archives: Features

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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Bonus Cut Poetry: Grown (pt 1) 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.

Grow (pt 1)
By: Abby Conklin 

I miss the thing I thought normalcy
was, before I grew up and started
blowing money on booze.
On board games.  On getting
laid, and in fact failing to even GET laid.

Men do not look
at me and think “damn.”
Damn
I would like to take her home.
Damn
I wonder if she used to pull
the crusts off sandwiches.
Damn
I would like to know how her skin smells
after she falls asleep.
Damn
I would like to know the sound of her breathing
on one hundred degree days.  The way she opens
doors with sticky jambs, or answers
the phone when a telemarketer calls.

“Why does she drink without
the straw,” I want to be wondered
about. “Why is she letting it poke
her cheek every time she goes
to sip off the rim that I wish
was mine?”

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The Bump in the Night Beat Battle Recap

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By: Gus Navarro 

Hip-hop is a multi-faceted art form that can be difficult to categorize, and in my opinion, even more difficult to define. That being said, one thing that remains constant within the musical side of things is the presence of drums. In providing the tempo and rhythmic base for MCs to rap over, the beat has always been a key ingredient to hip-hop music. Hosted by the Lansing based hip-hop collective, All of the Above (AOTA), the Bump in the Night Beat Battle was a night full of on-point beats that made people holler and nod their heads in appreciation. Showcasing some of the best beat-making talent mid-Michigan has to offer, Bump in the Night brought old and new friends together, creating chances for fellow musicians to build with each other.

“It’s helping to get the creative juices flowing in Lansing,” said AOTA co-creator, Sareem Poems. “There’s artists here who don’t know about each other, and they’re getting a chance to meet and build possible collab opportunities. For us, it means the most to see this community come together and continue to build the hip-hop scene here in Lansing that people seem to forget about very easily.”

Consisting of four rounds, producers went head-to-head, each playing three beats for the crowd. Seated at the edge of the stage, four Judges, Seoul of the 61Syx Teknique B-boy crew, Matt Foust of 808 Ministries, KuriOto of the BLAT! Pack and Lansing legend, DJ Butcher, decided who moved on to the next round. These events can be difficult for judges because much of it is open to interpretation. During a pause in the competition, Seoul broke down the intricacies of judging a beat battle.

“All four judges are looking for something different. Each judge is looking for a certain thing in the beat so it changes things when it comes to judging. I’m looking for creativity and flavor,” he explained.“It’s a little bit different because my flavor isn’t going to be the same as somebody else’s flavor. So you gotta look at what appeals to everybody while also thinking about what catches your ear.”

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Nowadays, technology allows even the most average Joe the ability to make a beat. Anybody can press a button that sounds like a hand clap or kick drum, but that doesn’t make them a producer. A producer is someone who, with their percussive composition, is able to create energy and feeling from people who listen. Their beats make MCs want to rhyme and cause people to throw their hands to the sky.

Outersound Music Group producer, Young Heat, a previous beat battle champion and competitor, addressed his favorite part of being a part of beat battles: the people. “The people determine everything. We can have judges but if the crowd doesn’t like it, the judges won’t even matter.”

Young Heat may have been crowned victorious previously, but the night belonged to AOTA producer Ess Be. He climbed through the first two rounds, each of his beats seeming to get more sophisticated as the night went on. In a tense final round between Ess Be and The Sound Addict, another AOTA producer and past winner, Ess Be brought out all the stops, dropping trap beats and sampling Michael Jackson’s “Thriller” and the Ghost Buster theme. Every producer brought it, but Ess Be seemed to have a little more heat on this particular night and it was clear that he’s been hard at work.

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Being in the crowd for this event was so much fun. With each beat drop, you could feel the positive energy and passion from the crowd as they erupted in cheers, always wanting more hi-hat sizzles and crispy snare hits. Behind a backdrop of pulse-pounding beats, I got to catch up with people I haven’t seen in awhile and just be around a community of people that have welcomed me and have shown me nothing but love and respect. Between each round, an MC performed as well, giving everyone a chance to vibe to some lyrics and take a break from the competition. First up was AOTA student, Evan, followed by Miles Young of Outersound Music Group and finally, Sareem Poems. DJ Choppy Blades was on hand, spinning the beats for each contestant and Ozay Moore, the creator of AOTA, kept things moving between rounds, MCing the event to perfection. There is no doubt that the Bump in the Night Beat Battle was a successful event. On a mild October night, beats were dropped and the crowd erupted with joy. It was a celebration of hip-hop and a reminder of all the good it has to offer in Lansing, and communities all over the world.

Congratulations to EssBe!

The Contestants:

Olos

IzzyOnTheBeat

KillaTuHot

Ess Be

Young Heat

Paul Psych

The Sound Addict

Studio Addicts

Y’s Council

Drelo Beats

Oj Payno

Choppy Blades

Alex Malone

Amel

 

 

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Bonus Cut Poetry: “Consent” 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.

Consent
By: Abby Conklin

When you cut into a kiwi fruit kept
in the fridge overnight, sliding knife
through furred skin, things feel easier
than they should.  It’s as if, that whole
time you slept, the fruit was wrapping
itself in firmness.  Lighting up hair
by hair, until its whole was stretched taut
in anticipation of the warm cup
of your hand, and the betrayal
of its paring knife, at six-something
on an October morning.

When you cut into a kiwi fruit left
out on the counter, however.
Then, after a night spent in the wash
that is Upper Manhattan coming
in through the screen of your kitchen window.

Be prepared.

This fruit has not been slowly drawn
into the farcical comfort of numbness.
It will not give so easily.  Flesh,
dimpling under the unkind point
of your steel, will raise an eyebrow
in question.  One chance,
it will be saying.
One chance.
Consider the full weight of your action,
balance precarious as it nudges
closer to the surface of a life.  Do you know
what you are doing?

Do you know
what you will have done?

 

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A Bonus Cut Feature: An Interview With The Black Opera

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By:  Gus Navarro 

If you haven’t heard of The Black Opera, get online and look them up. No seriously, do it. You should check them out because they are unlike anything else in hip-hop right now. With multiple costume changes and crowd participation, their live show is an explosion of anonymity and boundless, colorful energy. The Black Opera isn’t upfront and won’t say who is in the group. However it’s there, in plain sight, if you take the time to do your research. The Black Opera exists in a space that is in opposition to the rappity-rap clatter we encounter on a daily basis. Instead, the group is an international collective of artists that have come together around the communal idea that we, as humans, are connected, or as they so eloquently declare, “We are one.” Having released music since 2010, The Black Opera is beginning to reach a new level of acclaim as they continue to push the boundaries of what people perceive hip-hop should be about. If you have the chance to see them live, do it. If you can get online and listen to their music, do it.

During their tour stop at the Blind Pig in Ann Arbor, Michigan, I was fortunate to sit down and speak with two members of the group in anticipation of their new album, The Great Year, released via Mello Music Group. In the interview we touched on topics such as the philosophy behind their music and the influence the Internet has had on the growth of the collective. After seeing them perform and speaking with them, I learned that The Black Opera’s music, stage presence and overall style are propelled by the idea that it isn’t always about who is talking, but what is being said. In a society where the individual is placed on a pedestal above all else, this is a powerful stance to take.

As opposed to revealing the identities of The Black Opera members I spoke with, each voice is denoted as Black Opera Member (BOM) #1 and #2.

Bonus Cut (BC):  What is The Black Opera to you?

BOM #1:  The Black Opera is a collective of forward thinkers, artists, musicians, producers, rappers and videographers who have one goal and that is to promote that all are one. All people are one and that we put art in the forefront of that.

BC:  Will you tell me who’s in the group?

BOM #2:  Everybody that we work with becomes a part of The Black Opera. So we have a lot of affiliates and black ops all over the world. The main focus is the music so we shy away from saying who we are. The best thing to do is just check out the music and find your way through it. You can go through the credits and use Google to find out who’s doing what. We try to make sure that the music gets to you first. That’s the whole goal.

BOM #1:  Research! Do your research if you want to know.

BC:  That’s exactly what I wanted to talk with you guys about. You’re very intentional about being vague and not explicitly revealing your identities. Is that liberating?

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BOM # 1:  Yes, absolutely. Joining The Black Opera movement was one hundred percent about liberation, freedom of expression and not being tied to anything from the past. Whether that’s the block you’re from, the hood, the city, the set you claim or whatever. A lot of times, especially with hip-hop, people get away with saying, “I’m from the city that’s this, that or whatever….”

BOM #2:  They build a box around themselves.

BOM #1:  Yeah, it’s like, “What else?” Especially if that’s not the life you live. You’re telling the story of your city but what else is there? Who are you? We don’t like to fall into that lane. We definitely feel that it was a liberating situation when we chose to join The Black Opera.

BOM #2:  Like he said, “Who are you?” Another question is:  “What are you here for?” Just because you are who you are doesn’t mean you have to create like you look, how you smell or how you move. You can create whatever you want to. It’s like when you put out too much information about who you are or where you’re from, you create this box of judgment. For example, people expect something specific with artists from New York. If you don’t know where I’m from you’ll hear the same song and be like, “Wow, that’s amazing. Let me find out more.” If you start with the music, the live show and unravel it from there it can be pretty dope.

BC:  In some ways, it seems like you’re creating a lane for people to use technology.

BOM #2:  To use it correctly. Nowadays people just go on Twitter or Facebook to see what everybody is talking about. Let me do the cool thing; let me be hip for today. People have so many outlets to find out information (Google, for example) and we’re challenging people to use the Internet in the correct way and think critically for themselves.

BC:  Would there be a Black Opera without the Internet?

BOM #1:  There would be a Black Opera without the Internet, but the Internet has definitely benefitted the growth of the collective. That’s for sure. A lot of our collaborations have come from people that we’ve worked with personally. A lot of the times we’ve grown those relationships organically through the Internet. We like what they do, they like what we do. We start building a relationship and that’s when the music comes. The Internet has most definitely helped in that process.

BOM #2:  We did a song called “Opera Hands” with a producer called Tall Black Guy. It ended up being, for our core fan base, one of their favorite songs. That came from a DJ in Atlanta called DJ Apple Jac. He literally took the Soundcloud link to the beat in its original form, posted it and said, “Yo, the Black Opera should be on this.” We listened to it and were like, “why not?” We were creating in the studio at the time. So that’s how we got connected with Tall Black Guy. Everything happens organically, at the flow of the pace of creation. We do have serious intentions and a serious message but when it comes to the creativity we like for it to just flow organically.

BC:  On your Facebook info page you talk in big terms about the art you make being a commentary on “OUR perception of timeless issues.” Can you expand on what that means and what those issues are?

BOM #2:  Basically this is what we do:  We have issues that are not going anywhere, right? They’ve been professed to us through the news, propaganda, homies and friends. Sometimes you have to find those areas where you can switch the perception on it. Like, what really is racism? What really is hip-hop? The things that are popular to the people that listen to our music, we take a piece of that and we twist it a little bit. It’s like art, you know? Some of the music on our new album has a trap influence. Why? Because you would be blind and you would be deaf if you didn’t understand that hip-hop is going through more of a danceable time. You have these guys that grew up in the ghetto trying to find something positive to do. We’re not trying to condemn them. We’re making the people that listen to hip-hop understand what they’re doing. We did that exactly with a song called, “Rich Like You.” The hook says, “I just wanna be rich like you.” They’re trying to find a way out and the only channel they have is through music. Us being the hip-hop heads, we hear that and we’re like, “Turn that off.” But really it’s like, “Yo, they need your help.” Give them some time. A lot of them sound no different than Ol’ Dirty Bastard comin’ out. They have off-time styles and are creating a lot of new flow; it’s just a foreign tongue. That’s what we do. We use our music to show people how connected we are. The simplicity of the human is really all one. Everybody just wants to breathe, drink clean water, be loved, seen and listened to.

BC:  How did you get to this point?

BOM#1:  I think we see things and we’re inquisitive. It just comes down to wanting to know more, wanting to dig deeper and not taking everything at face value. We’ve got a song called, “Black Nirvana,” where I say, “The same thing that happened to Cobain happened to Tupac.” You might hear that line and be like, “What? No. Cobain shot himself and Tupac was murdered.” If you dig deeper, you can see the similarities. They both were outspoken people, had a lot to say about the society we live in and a lot of people didn’t like that.

BOM #2:  Yeah, both were very misunderstood and heavily judged.

BOM #1:  A lot of people didn’t like the way they viewed society. So for whatever reason, they both died very young in this society. Why is that? There has to be something about this society that did not mesh with how they spoke. I think what got us to this point mentally is just through thinking in critical terms about the things that are presented to us.

BOM #2:  I was listening to a Souls of Mischief interview and Tajai mentioned our names with TDE and Pro Era, which is really cool. He was talking about their [Souls of Mischief] new album, and he was saying that they weren’t necessarily trying to make a hip-hop album. They were just in the studio creating and just trying to make the best music they could. That’s something different for a group that’s been together as long as them. They started talking about some of the newer artists, and he included us, in talking about how he feels like a lot of the new artists have hit a creative wall where it’s like, “I’m sick of doing this. I’m sick of seeing this. It’s the same old, same old.” Even the underground has become predictable and kind of sold out to a certain extent. That’s basically where we’re at right now. We’ve hit that wall and we want to know what else is out there. How can we stop chimin’ in with what everybody’s complaining about? How can we turn a light on and let everybody know that we can do something completely different? You can do whatever you want to and that’s what we’re bringing to the feel. You might look at us and say, “Oh, they’re rapping.” If you look closer, you’re going to see performing arts, art pieces and costumes. It might look like a play, like it could be on Broadway. We’re just doing what we want to do creatively and trying to connect with as many people as we can.

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BC:  How do you want people to feel after they’ve seen you perform live?

BOM #2:  “That was the best show I’ve seen in ages,” that’s actually a direct quote. I’ve never seen anything like this before. I’m inspired to go create, I’m inspired to do something different, think outside of the box and critically think for myself.  We are one.

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Bonus Cut Poetry: “Working Title: Go Fuck Yourself” 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.

Go Fuck Yourself
By: Abby Conklin 

I want to vomit
the last two years.
Uproot from my gut
the relationship, break
up, the before plus
its after.  The cramped
hiccups of crying
on my apartment floor.
A mind wreaking havoc
at all hours of the day
hazed over with the effort
of being awake.  Months-

months

months of fighting
for what turned out
to be nothing.  The getting
over, the moving on.  Enough
realizations to fill
meeting notes’ margins
on mornings after nights
walled with twisting dreams.
Shaking it all off, trying
to get the blood gone stale
to move.

I want to vomit it all
in my hands- my whole
life since you, and hold
it out as if it is the answer
you seem to still be searching
for.  Here.
Here is what I have made
for myself, and did you want
it back, strangling keeper
of dreams?  I seem to remember
everything I had being consumed,
teeth first, by you.  Here, take
it.  Make a meal of your poison:
the ways in which I
do not need you.

 

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