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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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The Power of Graffiti and Hip-Hop Culture

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By: Gus Navarro
Photo Credits: Jen Spears

This past May I had the opportunity to visit London, England and multiple places in Germany. My girlfriend has been studying abroad since February and going to visit was the chance of a lifetime, as I was able to see her and also experience Europe. After visiting London, we headed to Germany and saw the cities of Hamburg, Tubingen and Frankfurt. One thing I noticed almost right away was the presence of graffiti. There was graffiti on trains, bridges, buildings and autobahn signs. It is easy to dismiss graffiti as vandalism. For example, people such as city officials typically see graffiti as something that is carried out by delinquent youth with nothing else on their mind than the defacement of public property. That being said, it is another thing altogether to consider graffiti as an artistic expression, and in the case of the German graffiti, an instance of global hip-hop.

In Black Noise (1994), Tricia Rose discusses the origins of graffiti and its place in hip-hop culture. Hip-hop was born in New York City in the late 60’s and early 70’s in the face of inherently racist development projects that were a brutal process of community destruction and relocation executed by municipal officials and under the direction of legendary planner Robert Moses (Rose, 1994, p. 30). This was a time of immense social, economic and racial oppression for those living in areas such as the Bronx, Bedford Stuyvesant and Harlem. In the name of “urban renewal,” homes were destroyed and thousands relocated. As these neighborhoods were inaccurately deemed slums, the newly “relocated” black and Hispanic residents in the South Bronx were left with few city resources, fragmented leadership and limited political power (Rose, 1994, p. 33).

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Hip-hop culture began as a response to these city policies and was an outlet for people, especially the youth, in these areas to express their anger at the racially prejudiced city government. As Rose explains, “Although city leaders and the popular press had literally and figuratively condemned the South Bronx neighborhoods and their inhabitants, its youngest black and Hispanic residents answered back (p. 34).” Hip-hop is commonly thought of as a musical genre, and it is. The music is undoubtedly an important part of hip-hop culture as the words and beats provide an ideal outlet for expression. However, break dancing and graffiti were other ways for artists to participate in the process of self-naming and articulating their particular style. With graffiti, the stakes could not have been higher.

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The individual credited with the beginning of the graffiti movement was a Greek teen named Demetrius; more widely known as Taki 183. While working as a messenger and traveling by subway to all five boroughs of the city, Taki wrote his name all over the subway cars and stations (Rose, 1994, 42). This was in the early 70’s and by the middle years of the decade graffiti had reached a new level of intricacy. Trains were the ideal canvas for these works of art because they traveled all over the city. It took an immense amount of planning and knowledge to execute a piece. Moreover, it took an understanding of the subway system as well as countless sketches of the desired tag design and color choices. As Rose insists, “No longer a matter of simple tagging, graffiti began to develop elaborate styles, themes, formats and techniques, most of which were designed to increase visibility, individual identity and status (p. 42).” What began as simple designs on a small part of a train car quickly blossomed into detailed works. Graffiti art made it possible for systematically underrepresented individuals to claim their identity and further the values of resistance embedded within hip-hop culture.

Similar to a work of art in a traditional setting such as a museum, it is important to take the time to study the graffiti and consider the color, design and stylistic choices made by the artist. With that also come thoughts about the process of making the piece. On the autobahn, there are works on road signs suspended over the famous highways. How in the world did the artist get up there? In Tubingen there was a piece on the canal of the river that could not be accessed unless in a boat or suspended by some sort of rope device used for mountain climbing. Each work of art had different bright colors, bubbled letters and swooping designs making them pop out, each distinctly different from the rest. The execution of a piece is the culmination of a great deal of time, labor and risk (Rose, 1994, 42). With that comes increased notoriety for the artist with complex designs and perilous locations. There is a lot that goes into each piece and it is important to consider the message the artist is trying to convey and communicate to the audience in such a public setting. What is the motivation behind each particular work? And ultimately, what is the story of the artist and their graffiti?

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Ultimately, the graffiti in Germany represents the growth of the revolutionary aspects of hip-hop culture. This is true of other aspects of hip-hop culture as well. There are countless MCs and DJs the all over the world that use the music of hip-hop to tell their stories. There are also dance crews and breakers from every continent that have influenced and changed break dancing. What began as a response to the oppression of the minority communities in New York City has found its way around the world and is an avenue for addressing issues of oppression that exists in artist’s communities. With this in mind, the importance of hip-hop and in this case graffiti can never be forgotten or dismissed as vandalism. Instead, graffiti should be embraced as a form of painting that takes immense time, skill and precision and has pushed the world of art forward.

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Works Cited

Rose, T. (1994). Black Noise. Middletown, Connecticut: Wesleyan University Press.

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A Bonus Cut Feature: An Interview With Detroit Rapper Red Pill (Part One)

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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 Heroes has 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.

(Excerpts taken from an interview with Chris Orrick on June 3rd, 2013…)

Bonus Cut (BC): Do you have an agent?

Red Pill (RP): I have a couple guys that work as my management. I don’t know if you’re familiar with Will Ketchum? He went to (Michigan) State too for music journalism. He’s interviewed tons and tons of people in hip-hop. We all work with BLAT! Pack and Will is the manager of p.h.i.l.t.h.y. (AKA James Gardin), Jahshua, Jasmine, myself and Hir-O. The reason that I was interested in doing that was because of all his connections. Through journalism, he’s made all sorts of connections through the blogs and all that stuff. Anything that I’ve been able to do before Ugly Heroes—getting on websites and stuff—has all been based on connections that Will had and just pushing us to these people that he knew, which has been awesome. That’s part of why I’ve been able to generate a little buzz and get my name out there. That’s that “who you know kind of thing.” That’s really what it all amounts to in a lot of cases. You have to have talent to back it up but it’s really about who you know. So, I do have him (Will) and he works for me, does some stuff for me. But I’m trying to figure out what to even do. I need booking, that’s my biggest concern; how to get on the road, how to get on tour. I was actually just talking to Open Mic Eagle that I opened for last night. I was just talking to him about how he got started because that’s my big thing, you gotta get on the road and he’s just grinding it out. I know they didn’t make much money last night, it was a decent show but there wasn’t a whole bunch of people there. They probably got a hundred to a hundred-fifty bucks and they just gotta keep going. He said he started by asking touring rappers if he could do their merch and follow them to shows and if they had 15 minutes, let him get on stage. And I was just like, “that’s crazy.” It’s cool and its something I never thought of, and something I might have to do.

BC: Do you know how long he was doing that for?

RP: I think it was a little over a year or so that he was doing that, and then finally was offered to actually be an opening act. But at the same time he was still required to get himself to every show. He was not getting paid but he was following these guys around. He did a tour from L.A. to Chicago in his own car, his own gas money just trying to sell merch at shows. I think that’s like a “rights of passage” kind of thing with touring and to really understand it you have to do that, cause this Ugly Heroes shit put me on tour in Europe, which is awesome, but it’s not going to be the same because Apollo Brown has just got such a good following out there. I mean, he can make good money touring out there so it’s just set up, its there. You know, it’s like being a fucking rock star out there. He goes to St. Petersburg, Russia and sells out a 2,000 capacity venue. Which is crazy and that’s amazing if we get to do that in the fall, which it looks like we’re probably going to, but I want to be able to tour the U.S. Apollo Brown, his fan base is so international, he has a lot of fans here in the States, but a lot of it is international. I want to be able to make sure that with me that I can sell out a show in Detroit that I can sell out a show in Chicago. Even just the small clubs and venues, doing that and going on a tour here is really important.

BC: Is that because you’re from here?

RP: Yeah, I think at least being able to sell out in Detroit, Lansing, Grand Rapids or wherever in this area is important to me because the home crowd is supporting you. To me that’s important. I want that. It’s amazing to be able to go over to Europe or wherever and tour and do that, but I want it here. I want to be someone that’s important in the scene here, someone that can affect change in the scene here and really be someone that is really a known figure. I’m not mad or bitter at them, but a lot of my predecessors in this scene—you don’t see a lot of them out at shows, you don’t normally see them. You know, they help certain people here and there and that’s fine. But I don’t think you’re going to go to a show right now and see Danny Brown or Black Milk pop up randomly on some supporting local talent. It depends, maybe I’m wrong, but I’ve never been to a show where I’ve seen that.

BC: Does Apollo Brown?

RP: You know, I’ve seen him at some stuff. I’ve seen him, but it all depends. Really, the only place I’ve seen him is in Grand Rapids because that’s where he’s originally from. I saw him at a show; I’ve seen him at a couple of the shows I’ve been to.

BC: Going on tour in Europe would be sweet, but it makes sense wanting to be here. It’s the home team kind of thing, this is where you’re from, this is what your music is about and this is what you rap about. Ugly Heroes is about here, about home. It’s interesting and cool to have Europeans that dig the music. There’s obviously some relationship with the music and they understand oppression and shit like that. But they’re not from here.

RP: Yeah like I said, I talk to friends that say the European tour will be amazing. I tell them that I won’t be content unless I can tour the U.S. and do well out here too. They look at me like I’m crazy or like I’m whining or something. It’s not that I’m bitching; it’s an incredible opportunity and if it happens it will be insane. But for my own value and for what I want to do with my music, I’m not going to be happy unless I tour the U.S. and especially Michigan.

BC: That’s a lot of what hip-hop is about. It’s about home and identity.

RP: Right, and that’s huge. Like you said, hip-hop and identity is one of the fundamental parts. I think that applies to everybody though. You are defined in a lot of cases by where you’re from and that definitely shines through in my music I think.

BC: How would you say that you first really got into hip-hop and music in general?

RP: As a kid, I remember always being drawn to music. It was something that I always really enjoyed. I wasn’t huge into sports or really anything else. It wasn’t like at seven or eight I was thinking in terms of I want to be a rapper. But I loved music and I wanted to be involved with music. I think when I was in second or third grade I played saxophone in band. I was in choir in elementary school and then money, my family money, kind of limited that. I used to live right across the street from my elementary school in Redford, but they moved our practices over to the high school and I couldn’t get there in the morning so I had to stop doing it. I do remember as a young kid just really being drawn to music of any kind. At that point, it didn’t matter. We’re young enough where I don’t remember this specific moment where I was like, “Oh, I’ve just now been introduced to hip-hop.” It just was. It was on the radio; it was just what people listened to. It already controlled the mainstream by the mid 90’s. I don’t recall being like, “Oh, I love hip-hop now.” But, I do think that it really strongly took over my taste at a young age. I liked everything and I still like everything. But with hip-hop, something about it was speaking to me more than other things and I don’t know if it was growing up without a lot of money. It’s not like I could put on Get Rich or Die Tryin and relate with what 50 Cent was saying but there were bits and pieces where you could kinda bridge those gaps. The rags to riches story or something where you don’t have much and you don’t like that about your life and you see this guy—just to keep running with that example—where he rose out of that and was able to do something positive with his life and make a lot of money off of it. That’s what I related to most about anything like that. That was early, listening to like just pop radio. You know, pop hip-hop. Early on, I was probably listening to Ja-Rule, Ludacris and just shit that was on the radio. Dr. Dre, when The Chronic: 2001 came out, like that stuff. Whatever was on the radio. It was the shit that me and my friends were listening to and we would talk about it. I remember going to school and watching MTV before school and talking about it right when we got into school. In elementary school, we would talk about what video just came out. Eminem was a huge influence on me, for a number of reasons. I related to him when he came out. He was from Detroit and whether I admitted it or not, the white thing, he looked like me so it was easier to relate. When I really got into writing though, I was like twelve or thirteen. I can’t remember exactly but I moved form Redford to Howell with my family. My grandfather owned the house that we lived in and my dad couldn’t pay. He was having trouble with money, he had lost his job and was trying to start his own cell phone business and that was really bad. Money was just terrible and so my grandfather evicted us. He gave us a time frame; he had to get his money and shit or whatever. I haven’t seen him since then. We ended up moving to Howell in this apartment and I just felt—I didn’t like it—I didn’t like Howell at all. It didn’t feel the same to me; I grew up in Redford. It’s not like it was a bad neighborhood or anything but it felt like the city to me, I could ride my bike to Seven-Eleven. All my friends lived within a certain couple of blocks of me and shit. In Howell, everything was spread out and it wasn’t diverse. I’m sure you know a little about Howell’s history where there’s old KKK shit out there. It’s a different world and I was very opposed to it and felt like I didn’t belong there. I ended up meeting a lot of good people, my girlfriend now, but at the time I was young and I guess the move impacted me enough that I was like, “I don’t care, I’m not going to school, fuck it, I’m not doing any of this shit. I’m just going to write and just be rapper.” And I didn’t tell anyone about it, like no one, I wasn’t embarrassed but it was something I did personally and come up with this idea in my mind to do this. I just started writing, like all the time. That was probably the most I’ve ever written, ever. I don’t write nearly as much as I did when I was thirteen, fourteen.

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BC: When you’re talking about writing, what is the process? Are you literally talking about writing rhymes as your fourteen or you talking about writing stories? What is writing to you, what does that mean?

RP: It’s everything. For the most part now I’ve really just gotten to writing raps. I write very small amounts of poetry, I don’t share that. It’s in my notebooks, its there. For me, it was writing raps for the most part. It was stuff like that or ideas or writing about how I felt. That was the biggest thing for me. I was able to use writing, as cliché as it is, for therapy or whatever. That’s what I was doing. I didn’t have people to talk to; I didn’t have any friends in Howell. I was too young to drive, so I couldn’t go visit my friends all the time. I was just alone. I didn’t want to make friends first of all, even if people tried I was like, “I don’t like these kids, they’re not my friends. I have friends.” So, I would sit in my room and listen to beats. I think for most people you start out emulating. Whether it was trying to write like Xzibit or whoever else. It was all about writing songs.

BC: How were your first raps?

RP: I’ve looked back on some of the stuff and I can see where I started to understand how to actually write a rap song. It would just be like free-flow. It made no sense, it was just writing, it would rhyme in weird spots and it made no sense at all. Eventually, I started figuring it out. I don’t know how it happened but somehow I taught myself that this free-flow of nonsense wasn’t actually a song.

BC: Do you go back sometimes and use ideas that you might’ve had back when you were fourteen to influence you?

RP: Not recently. I used to a lot more. It’ll be like a period of time where it’ll be like four or five months that I might go back and revisit lines. If I had an idea for a song, I’ll write it down. I guess in a sense I still have ideas for songs that I had from back when I was fifteen that I just haven’t done yet. I still want to do them but I don’t know if I’m good enough yet or would even approach it. I pick from other things. At work now, at the plant, we have these sheets that we’re supposed to be filling out and doing inspections on. I have stacks of these papers that are just folded up and greasy, just covered in dirt and shit that just have raps on them. It’s actually terrifying to think about because I know there’s a lot of good shit in there but a lot of my writing’s actually happening now at the plant. I don’t know why, I think it’s like the repetitiveness and the horrible boringness of standing at these machines all day that’s generating what I’m thinking about or getting me creative. There are just stacks of that shit and I gotta go through those and figure out what’s good and make sense of what’s in there. We’re supposed to just be working so I’m like scribbling these as fast as I can and shoving it back in my pocket. Notebooks, for a while I was in between like five or six notebooks. In general I’m scatter-brained and not organized. It sucks; it’s fucked me up in school. So with my writing I’m trying to fix that. I stick to one notebook now, but now have these stacks of greasy plant pages that are just piling up now and I don’t know what to do with them.

BC: How do you deal with writer’s block?

RP: I just don’t anymore. I don’t try to fight it if it’s not happening. I constantly feel lazy, which is weird. I don’t know, my girlfriend tells me I work too hard and so maybe it’s like a complex of this constant feeling that I’m not working hard enough. I don’t know if it’s a good or a bad thing, but it makes me feel like shit everyday. Then I think, I had The Kick come out and then Ugly Heroes. I have another project I’m about to record next week and I’m still working on new shit with Hir-O again. So in reality I look at what I’m doing and I can see it, but it still doesn’t feel like I’m doing enough. It never feels like I’m doing enough. I get out of work and I never feel comfortable just sitting, even if I’m just not doing anything. I’m always trying to be productive, at least attempting or giving myself the illusion that I’m being productive, even if I’m not. That’s something that I realized recently. So the writer’s block for me—writing just comes and goes for me. I’m not the guy that’s on a writing regimen; I think there are writers that will go and force themselves everyday to do this and try to do it everyday. Sometimes it works for me but for the most part I’ve stopped trying to fight and if its not happening, it’s not happening. I’m not being productive by writing shit that isn’t good. If it’s not good, it’s not good. I’m not going to use it anyways. I’ve gone through bouts of like nine months where I don’t write, that hasn’t happened in a long time, it’s usually about a couple weeks. I’ll go a couple weeks where I don’t do anything and then all of a sudden I’ll write three songs in two days. It makes up for it. It’s a when it rains it pours kind of thing.

BC: So you have your raps that are words on a page. What is like when you try to transition those words into having the beats and production in the studio? Are you hearing a beat in your head when you write? How does it all come together?

RP: For the most part I write to a beat. I don’t do a lot of the whole free verse. Sometimes I do, and sometimes it works out really well but for the most part I’m writing to a beat. I need the music, the actual music itself, to inspire what I want to write about.

BC: So will Apollo Brown, for example, give you a beat and then you write your lyrics?

RP: Yeah, that’s exactly how that works. With the Apollo Brown project, Ugly Heroes, he’d send me and Verbal Kent four to six beats in batches and we’d just get to work on them. He just sent them to us, put them in a drop box for us, and we just went with it. So we’d get the beats and probably a couple hours later we’d have a conversation about the beats that we liked. There would be times where both of us would really like a beat and we’d go with it. It’s the same thing with Hir-O. I wait on him to send me a beat and then I work with it. The inspiration that I get from the sound is how I work best. I can write stuff, and I do write stuff all the time, but my writing is so dependent on the actual flow and rhythm of the beat. The patterns that I come up with are based on what’s happening with the beat and I’m trying to find my space within that. Even as far as tone and if there’s any type of melody to what I’m saying is all because of the beat. I need that to tell me how to write.

BC: When you’re working on a project, do you spend a lot of time in the studio?

RP: Apollo Brown has this formula and it works which is a huge reason why I think he’s there. It’s a very rigid formula so I didn’t spend a lot of time with he and Verbal Kent. I had never met Verbal Kent before this project; I had only heard his name like one time. I had never heard his music, nothing. But, we ended up connecting and becoming really good friends throughout the course of the project; he’s a really cool guy. We probably met like twice before we actually got in the studio and we didn’t really work on any writing together. We did a little bit, but it was just rapping verses to each other and trying to figure out choruses for songs. With Apollo Brown and his music, I really think he believes in simplicity and the good that can come out of it and I really like that about what he does. Now, Hir-O is the opposite and I see both sides and I like both. I think we did three recording sessions in Royal Oak, Verbal Kent came up from Chicago, and we spent fourteen or fifteen hours total in the studio and we just knocked it out. With Apollo’s music I wasn’t trying to be flashy. The music was there, the sound was there and the style called for just rapping. I didn’t need to get crazy or try anything weird. For me, I felt like we’re here to tell a story over these beats, I’m not going to get flashy. I think the last track, “Push,” is where if I was doing any sort of different patterns and shit, that was probably the only time I really did anything like that on the whole album. It’s simple, it’s Apollo’s formula and it’s what sounds good. It’s what his fans like because to me hip-hop is it’s own thing. There’s rock, there’s punk-rock, country and all these things fall into one category. For me, hip-hop does the same thing now. You don’t have all these names. Sometimes you do. You have “Swag Rap” or “Gangsta Rap” so they have different names for it but for what Apollo is doing it’s a classic sound. So for me it’s like Jack White saying he’s going to write a Country album or something. He’s going to go do it and he’s going to do it in the style that would be expected of that genre. You’re going to know it’s Jack White and it’s going to sound like him. It’s the same with me, you know it’s my music and it’s something I’m doing but it’s for that sound, it’s for that crowd. I try to cater to that with my writing and make sure I like what I was doing with that writing.

BC: So how did the concept of Ugly Heroes come to be?

RP: Ugly Heroes was all Apollo Brown’s idea. He approached me about it. He had the concept; he knew he wanted to do a group album with two MCs and a producer in the vain of Little Brother with 9th Wonder, Phonte and Big Pooh. He approached me with the idea and I liked it. It’s supposed to represent the everyday person. It was the same thing with Verbal Kent. We got approached by him [Apollo Brown] and got brought into his idea and what he was doing. So it already made sense to me, it was already something that I could easily speak about. That’s my life. I come from the working class like most of us so I didn’t have to change who I was or anything. Stylistically, it’s what I was doing, just straightforward hip-hop. That was the purpose of this album. Just simple, clean raps, easy hooks and that’s it. I didn’t have to think too hard about it, which is good. I could just write.

Stay tuned next week for part two of this interview!

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