This is the second installment of Bonus Cut Poetry, a new series that features original poems by Bonus Cut staff, artists and YOU! In this series, our mission is to bring people together in poetry, share stories and display wonderful artistic pieces. If you would like to have your poems in the next Bonus Cut Poetry installment, just email us at email@example.com
Our second installment features Bonus Cut member Justin Cook.
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.
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!