Tag Archives: Music

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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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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The Starting Five – Our J Dilla Favorites

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In honor of the late great J Dilla’s birthday (February 7th), we wanted to share our favorite Dilla cuts.

Gus’ Picks

Daniel’s Picks

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

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Daniel’s Thought

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

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

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

Gus’ Thought

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

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

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

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

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Bonus Cut Presents: An Interview With 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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Album of the Week: “The Low End Theory” by A Tribe Called Quest

lowendtheory

Daniel’s Thought

“Once again a case of your feet in my Nike’s/ If a crowd is in my realm I’m saying, ‘mic please’/ Hip-hop is living, can’t yank the plug/ If you do the result, will end up kind of bugged”

“Be alert, look alive, and act like you know”

“A special shot of peace goes out to all my pals, you see/ And a middle finger goes for all you punk MCs”

“East Coast stomping, ripping and romping”

“Industry rule number four thousand and eighty/ Record company people are shady”

Gus’ Thought

There is no question that A Tribe Called Quest is one of the most legendary hip-hop groups of all time. For the last twenty-five years, Q-tip’s signature velvety voice and Phife Dawg’s relentless staccato flow have influenced hip-hop heads, young and old alike. Released in 1991, The Low End Theory, contains a laid-back feel that is heavily influenced by jazz and the experiential narrative of two twenty-something African-American men from St. Albans, Queens.

Featuring guest bassist Ron Carter, The Low End Theory is driven by the low, pulsing notes of stand up bass. Whether its “Butter,” “Jazz (We’ve Got), or “Verses From The Abstract,” the pulse stays on the far backside of the beat, creating the perfect backdrop for Phife and Tip to tell their stories. With DJ Ali Shaheed Muhammad on the 1’s and 2’s as well as features from Busta Rhymes, Sadat X and Diamond D, The Low End Theory is a primary document of sorts, allowing us to revisit the sounds and feelings of parts of hip-hop in the early 90’s.

On The Low End Theory, A Tribe Called Quest’s second album, they are in no rush to explain anything to you. Instead, the tempos are in the perfect spot for them to get there, when Tip and the Five Foot Assassin are good and ready. Don’t get me wrong, they want to rap and tell you their stories through the art form that is music. However, as they’ve done throughout their entire career, they do it on their own terms, at their own pace. Thinking about how the music industry is so heavily influenced and based around one-hit-wonders and what’s trending, it’s important to appreciate the artists, past and present, that make the music they want to make, for themselves, despite the industry. With The Low End Theory, A Tribe Called Quest did this, and continues to do so.

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Mark Your Calendars: The Elks Lodge Summit!

Elks Lodge Photo

By: Gus Navarro

A few months back, Back Beat Magazine co-founder, Ella Campbell, organized an open jam session for instrumentalists, vocalists and MCs to play music together in a night of improvisation. Lucky for us, it’s going down all over again at the Elks Pratt Lodge in Ann Arbor, Michigan this Friday, September 19th. Featuring a quintet made up of Judson Branam IV (drums), Ella (saxophone and EWI), Olin Clark (guitar), Nathan Flanders (keys) and Endea Owens (bass), the “Elks Lodge Summit” is guaranteed to be a night of good times, jazz, hip-hop, dancing and creativity.

The night will consist of the house band getting a feel for each other as they play various jazz tunes from some of the sax greats such as John Coltrane and Joe Henderson. From there, they will transition into the portion of the night where MCs and vocalists will be invited to take part in the music making process while the band covers artists like OutKast, Slum Village, John Legend and J*Davey. One of the coolest things about this event is how jazz and hip-hop will be seamlessly mixed and mashed, creating something special.

In anticipation of this second event, we had a chance to speak with Ella about some of the details. First we asked what her thoughts were regarding the purpose of the Summit:

“Some jazz musicians love performing with emcees, and some emcees love performing with live musicians. Bringing the two groups together and creating a nurturing atmosphere for both is one of the goals. I also want to bridge the musical language and genre induced barrier between hip-hop artists and live musicians, just like they’re doing at Revive Music now and how The Roots have been since their beginning. I think that jumping right in and creating the music together is an exciting way to do that.”

Hip-hop and jazz have been connected from the first cyphers and block parties in New York City and this continues to be the case. The best thing about this event is that you will actually get a chance to hear that connection being made.

Check out the quintet covering OutKast’s “So Fresh, So Clean” as Rafael De La Ghetto and Blas FaMe trade verses.

When asked about what she is looking forward to most, Ella responded, “Elks is a place that many musicians feel comfortable testing out new material, and the audience is always receptive to whatever we throw at them. I can’t wait to see what experiments brew up this time around.”

Friday night is sure to feature a slew of killin’ tunes and a collaborative atmosphere that will be inspirational and fun to be a part of. If you’re near Ann Arbor area on Friday and are looking for a good time, come out to the Elks Pratt Lodge. It’s going down and you won’t want to miss this.

On this recording you can hear the band laying down Big Boi’s “Shutterbug” with Rafael De La Ghetto tearing it up on the mic once again.

Event Info:

Elks Pratt Lodge
220 Sunset Rd
Ann Arbor, MI 48103

Venue is cash only.
Food and drinks available.
No hats once you get inside.

To listen to more recordings from the first night, check out Ella’s Soundcloud page.

RSVP on the Facebook Event page, here. 

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