Every week, Daniel and Gus pick five songs to share called The Starting Five. This week, they’re personally sharing these tracks as a feature.
Chris Orrick (aka Red Pill) of BLAT! Pack is a rapper from Detroit, Michigan who is emerging as a positive voice in hip-hop. Pill’s delivery is both sophisticated and to-the-point as it treads on parallels to the likes of Blu and Atmosphere. Red Pill’s releases Please Tip Your Driver and The Kick (with Hir-O) helped formulate a monstrous repertoire, and his recent project with Apollo Brown and Verbal Kent called Ugly Heroeshas further backed his immaculate career in hip-hop. In a day and age where people are still struggling to find consistent artists in an ever-expanding culture, Red Pill brings content that hip-hop truly needs.
Red Pill recently sat down with Bonus Cut to discuss issues within hip-hop, the art of writing, his influences, South by Southwest (SXSW), the status of hip-hop today and his Ugly Heroes project.
Part one can be viewed here.
(Excerpts taken from an interview with Chris Orrick on June 3rd, 2013…)
Bonus Cut (BC): How do you view MCing? What does it take to be an MC?
Red Pill (RP): For me it’s just being yourself. The cover is so big now. You got every different kind of person in the world writing or trying to be a rapper and it’s being reflected in who’s actually making it. So you have Mac Miller’s and Schoolboy Q’s and they’re hanging out together. I don’t really listen to Mac Miller, but there’s a place for it because everyone comes from different places and hip-hop is so wide-reaching. I don’t know what it means to be an MC or rapper anymore, in fact I think that idea (has been) sort of overdone for a long time. In my stalling last night of the show somebody was like “freestyle” and I don’t freestyle. My writing all started as this loser kid in his bedroom writing. I wasn’t banging on tables in the lunchroom and hanging out and rapping; none of my friends rapped. I was the only one that rapped, so I wasn’t doing all that shit. So I don’t freestyle. And there are probably some older people and some younger people too that would say, “if you can’t freestyle then you’re not an MC.” To me I don’t understand, you put definitions on something like that and it doesn’t matter. To me I’m more interested in songwriting. I love when rappers are sweet at the skill of rapping. I try to do that sometimes and I pride myself at attempting to do that and hopefully be good at that. At the same time, if you say shit that doesn’t relate to me, then I don’t care. Some people just like hearing rappers be sweet at rapping. For me I’m going to put on something that feels real to me, that connects with my life, something personal and that doesn’t even have to be deep and heartfelt, it can be anything relating to your life. Writing can be anything.
BC: Who are some of those artists that you find relatable?
RP: In terms of hip-hop, the rappers that I’ve found the most relatable to me have been Blu. I mean, I grew up watching Atmosphere and Rhymesayers and what they did. Kendrick to me is another guy that came up. If I had to pick my favorites: Blu, older Atmosphere, Kendrick, Ab-Soul. Outside of hip-hop I’m into this band right now called Andrew Jackson Jihad, they’re like a folk-punk band from the Southwest. Dude’s writing is some of the best Americana folk writing I’ve ever heard. It speaks to this generation. It’s something that to me, I’m trying to steal whatever I can from him and put that into my music. He’s a genius for how he’s writing, and it goes back to this: are you saying something that I can feel? I don’t care what it is. I mean, he has songs that talk about what people get off on, and I think the chorus is “whatever gets your dick hard” or something like that, and it’s funny and it relates to me, because there are a lot of people like that. So it’s funny, it’s relatable, and shit like that is important to me, and that’s what I’m trying to do with my newer writing. The seriousness of my writing has always been what I’ve done, but I want to put a new feel on it. I want to have something that more describes who I am. Cause it’s not like I’m this guy in this dark cellar angry, writing, drinking and dying. Sometimes it’s like that. But for the most part I have a different side of my personality that I don’t let into my music and I don’t know why, but it has to come out and for the next full-length solo shit I do I’ll try to find a way to be more relatable by showing off me as a whole verses just me as a serious therapeutic writer.
BC: What about names. Bonus Cut was recently at Philthy’s show where he officially transitioned from Philthy to James. So what’s in a name?
RP: As far as me, if I had a cooler name, if my actual name was cooler, maybe I would go by my real name, but it’s Chris Orrick, it’s like Scottish and it’s just not a cool name. To me there’s nothing in a name I don’t think. I mean you can have people that have cool names and make up these cool names and I thought about dropping Red Pill, but it’s already done, it’s there, that’s what I’m going to be now and it’s fine. I don’t think there’s much in a name. I picked my name, which is from The Matrix obviously, because I was making sure I wasn’t just falling into the system and that’s a lot of what I do with music. I don’t want to be this human zombie that does the same thing with the rest of his life, and that’s fine I mean a lot of people are content with that, and that’s awesome, some people are happy with that pretty standard life, and there’s a part of me that wants part of that too, but I can’t imagine doing a 9 to 5 forever. That’s like the worst thought in the world to me. So I wanted my name to represent staying out of The Matrix, getting out of this whole thing it’s created. Looking back on it, it doesn’t even matter and that’s what I’m saying, there’s nothing in a name. I was probably 18 when I named that name. So I don’t care now, I mean I do and I have this name and I’m going to have to stay with it forever now, but it’s nothing. What I will say about a lot of rappers in general now is a lot of people are going back to just using their name and I think that’s telling of, especially in hip-hop, just being you and completely saying, in Philthy’s case, “I’m James Gardin” and J Young “I’m Jahshua Smith” and stripping that whole stage show mentality. You can’t do that anymore. You have twitter. You have facebook. There’s no allure about artists anymore. We know where they are all the time. You can’t sit and think I wonder what Jay-Z’s doing right now because he just tweeted it, so you know where people are, you know what they’re like and it’s not this big grand stage anymore of entertainers, it’s these people that are real life people that we can see and find any information about them at any point and so I think that might be something to do with it.
BC: How does Blat! PACK work exactly?
RP: It started as just a collective of artists in Lansing (Michigan). Initially it was only Lansing. Jahshua and James basically started it with Will Ketchum and everything about it was just to strengthen resources. You have this, I have this, let’s work together now we both have those things. It’s worked out. I think that part of what our success and what we’ve been able to do is based entirely on the fact that we’ve worked as a team for a long time. It goes through phases like any group of friends. Sometimes it’s stronger, sometimes you’re not even thinking about it to be honest. Some people have had ideas of it being a label in the future, and to me it’s just like: if we just help each other, I love all those guys they’re all my friends, we’ve expanded and included some people from Detroit, some people have moved away, so it’s like any group of friends and we just have a name. We wanted to work together and make sure that we looked out for each other and we could approach people with a title and it seemed like it was better and it puts the Blat! PACK logo on shit. It makes it just seem a little more professional. At this point it’s not heavily functioning as an entity that’s working together, we just tweet each other stuff and hang out. I was right in the middle of getting into it. I love all those guys, I’ve been friends with them for five years which is actually crazy to say. It’s helped us. We’ve been able to travel to South by Southwest (SXSW) three years in a row and do shows because of that, strictly because we’re able to all pull our resources together and say, “okay let’s rent a van.” There’s 12 of us we can pile into this van, it’s a horrible trip, it’s like the worst thing ever, but we can all get down there. We can go all-in on hotel rooms and when you pull resources even in that sense it helps. When you can split gas to drive to Chicago or Milwaukee and do a show that’s a huge help.
BC: So how was SXSW? How has it been?
RP: First year it was awesome. It was really good. The show that I did was not that great but it was cool because at that point it was the quality of the crowd. At that point Jake Pain (at the time the editor-in-chief of HipHopDX) who Will Ketchum knew came out to that show, and that’s how I was able to secure my HipHopDX Next feature which helped generate some good buzz for me. I got to meet him, I got to put a CD in his hand, we talked so I got to make an impression on him, and then I started getting my shit posted on that site, and it’s one of the biggest hip-hop sites in the world and it’s cool. The second year was a better show and I think it’s where Apollo Brown really backed me and solidified me doing the Ugly Heroes project. And then this year, a couple of months ago, was terrible. I had one show and no one was there, it got cut-off at the end, and all sorts of dumb shit happened. I rented a car and Hir-O just like smashed it into two cars in an alley. The worst part about what happened is that SXSW is this long party, there are plenty of shows you can go to, there’s free alcohol, there’s free food, and it’s awesome, but it’s not this independent artist thing anymore. Corporations have jumped on it really heavily. There was a Doritos stage this year. To me I’m not going back unless I have something major happening. From a fans perspective, if you can get the tickets, they’re expensive, it’s a great great time. I can’t justify spending money to go down there and not be able to get anything done. Everything’s very exclusive now. If you don’t pay the three or four hundred dollars for a damn ticket to be able to go to the shows and get a wristband it’s hard to get into things now. I was really turned off by the whole thing. The worst part for me really was that we’d get up early, try to get a whole bunch of work done, and then by 8 o’clock at night I’m dead tired, I’ve just worn myself out, so now I can’t even go party, I’m like too tired to go party and this is the worst thing ever. I felt like an old man getting to bed at like 10 o’clock in Austin, Texas.
BC: So where’s hip-hop right now?
RP: I think hip-hop is at a great place right now. There’s a ton of good shit out. I don’t stay on top of it enough honestly. I think you’ve got plenty of people doing good music. There’s an overall vibe that I’m feeling that is a changing tide to more personable and relatable and smart actual lyrics again. And not that I’m saying that this has been bad or that hip-hop sucked, I don’t believe in any of that either, I just think it’s good right now. For fans and artists that like smart hip-hop that’s saying something, I think that’s becoming trendy again. I think people want that again. It always has been what it is. It has its moments and music changes, music is always going to change, it’ll start to sound different again, it’ll continue to sound different and evolve and do different things, and you’re going to like certain eras better than others. That’s the same thing with rock, with anything. Hip-hop is old enough now that there’s the 80s, there’s the 90s, there’s the onslaught, so you can kind of pick what these things all sounded like and what you like more about every different part of it. And looking back on it you can kind of pick and choose who were the best acts of that time in hip-hop or what was special about that era. I think most people point to the 90s as the really big birth but to me that’s like talking about the classic rock era and the 60s, late 60s early 70s, where people look back to rock, and that doesn’t mean that rock just sucks or that there’s nothing good out in rock, it just means that maybe was a really interesting and innovative time in rock. And I think people are really going to look back on this era of hip-hop that people have been hating on the last five or six years as a very innovative era of underground hip-hop. I really think people are going to look back on this as a really interesting time in hip-hop where so many different influences were coming in. It wasn’t just a soul sample anymore, it wasn’t even just electronic shit, it was blending all that shit together and throwing influences in from indie rock, from punk, from everything. People are just experimenting like crazy with hip-hop right now and it’s awesome.
For more on Red Pill: