Interviewed by Omi Muhammad
Philly MC Theotisjoe sits down with Hip Hop Forum digital magazine to talk about his upcoming ep Ship It Out, his collaboration with a Jamaican artist, Nelson Williams and how he’s passing on his passion for hip hop to the next generation …
HHF: Hey, so tell us about the new ep Ship It Out, what do we have to look forward to; are there any collaborations?
Theotis Joe: Mmhmm, the current ep right now is entitled Ship It Out, the features I have on there, are DA Lez, he’s on the actual song ‘Ship It Out’, and Nelson Williams, he’s on the song entitled ‘In My Town’. Nelson’s from Jamaica, yeah awesome voice.
Starting with ‘Ship It Out’, DA Lez and I actually recorded it a few years ago but it didn’t really turn out the way I wanted it to, fortunately we met a guy who is a dope producer, who goes by the name of DJ Lez. He produced the track and when I heard the track I was like yeah, yeah … let’s do that.
I started spittin’ a verse, you know the chorus and what not, set up some studio time and we knocked it out. It became pretty awesome, at first I wasn’t going to put it out, you know, but Lez, he also shot the video as well as produced it. We shot the video in a couple locations here in Philly and a location in Princeton, NJ at a radio station. A friend of mine named Phil Jackson, a radio DJ/ Host up at Princeton University, and also he’s a host on the radio station for the Philadelphia Eagles.
And Nelson Williams (…) I just wanted to recorded a new song. I met Nelson about a year or so ago right, at my brother- in-law’s barber shop. You know choppin’ it up, talking about music and hip hop and stuff like that. I happened to have a couple of beats in my phone and the person that produced the track for ‘In My Town’, his name is Andrew D-Boogie from Virginia and he’s actually a part of Hip Hop Forum. Yeah, you know him?
He produced the track and so I had it in my phone and I pulled it out and I spit the chorus. I said ‘Nelson, hey listen man, can you sing this’? Because I love his voice you know Jamaican sound and what not, and he dove right into it man and it was awesome. I said ‘ Yo you the missing link to this puzzle right here’, you know because I was going to do the whole chorus myself.
But when he spit that part (Theotis Joe starts singing a part of the chorus, Nelson Williams style), I was like yeah, yeah let’s do it, I said ‘you gon’ get on this song with me. We didn’t record the song until about maybe three four months ago. I called him up and I was like are you still interested in doing that song with me? He was like ‘yeah my brotha’, he came through, he was on time, we knocked it out and it became a hit! Everybody that I played it to loved that song so you know, it’s going on the ep. Basically that’s the only collaborations. As far as producers; I produced a few myself, I’m a producer as well, Leslie Howard/DJ Lez he produced a couple, and Andrew/D-Boogie.
HHF: Your love for your city shines through in your music especially in the song ‘In My Town’, what was the intended message behind it?
Theotis Joe: Well you know I see a lot of young brothers out here pretty much being slaughtered in the streets. Young and old, whether it be by law enforcement, by their peers, accidental or something like that, or just jealousy … enemies in the streets. I grew up in quite a few urban areas and I’ve seen drugs and I’ve seen drug paraphernalia pass by and come through at an extensive rate. You know, people being on drugs and stuff like that, fights break out at any moment.
Basically ‘In My Town’ is for every town across the world, not just here in America but across the world. When you hear that song ‘In My Town’, you know it has a combination of hip hop and also reggae vibes in it because I used my man Nelson Williams on that song. He actually took that song over to Jamaica; he was over there for like twelve days and they loved it. So that song is for every town across the world. You know, you can be anywhere and you just might get bust in the head. Look what just happened in Florida, you know hat I mean, in that nightclub; nobody was expecting that, everybody was just having a good time but shit can pop off at any minute. Basically that was the inspiration to the song.
HHF: Do you think its possible for the message to be misunderstood?
Theotis Joe: People can take it how they want to but I think probably maybe … But if you listen to the chorus, listen to the lyrics, its for every town. It’s through my eyes and what I see and what I’m about. How I handle my business, and I will, if I have to. I believe in protecting myself you know, I don’t want to get bust in the head. Don’t run up on me with that bullshit, you’ll be having some problems. Even with the law enforcement, these guys man I don’t know what they’re thinking, thinking they can shoot an innocent young boy down in the street you know, unarmed, on camera, and get away with it.
That shit is wrong, it’s not right. It’s not cool, I read stories … and on the news where you know where they run up in someone’s house and shoot a seven year-old girl, a young boy with a toy gun in the park. They get out shooting, don’t even ask no questions you know what I mean? Twelve year old boy, eleven year old boy just gone. That’s crazy to me, you know that’s why I had to put a mixture of that in there as well because I feel really strongly about that and that’s not cool.
HHF: In the track ‘Ship It Out’ you hint at your work ethic, can you talk a little bit more about that?
Theotis Joe: You get what you put out; you know if you work hard then you’re going to get great results, if you’re lazy and don’t really want to do nothing then you’re going to be in the same position you were in when you first started. A lot of folks want to sit back and have somebody wait on them hand and foot but it don’t really work like that. You got to get out here and grind, you got to hustle.
Me personally, I produce beats, I build a network of producers across the world. I built my own website. I’m my own manager, I book my own shows. I do my own tours. You just got to be pro-active in your own business and really not wait for anyone.
I’ve always been the type not to want to have someone wait on me hand and foot or wait for somebody to make a move. Like I rock with a live band, I’ve rocked with a few live bands throughout my career. Trying to pull everyone together at one time is hard and a lot of people had their own agendas. Which brought me to the realization that man I need to focus and concentrate on me, I need to build me up instead of trying to bring everybody on board at one time.
My next move is to finish completing my own studio, right now its a pre-production. Right now I really have to rely on going to another person’s facility and it kind of sets me back a bit which is one of the reasons it took me so long to put this album out.
As far as pre-production go I got it going on in the basement, been teaching the kids. I got a five year- old and a seven year-old, by the names of Zion and Jaden, teaching them how to produce and they’re dope. Jaden, man, he just helped me produce a track called “I” and we were going to record it today, you know I was going to have you meet me at the studio.
HHF: So that work ethic that you were talking about, you’re in the process of instilling that in your children. (…) I think it’s so dope to have the children involved in the process, they’re not going to be stuck someday trying to figure out what to do and how they’re going to eat.
Theotis Joe: It starts with the parents, you send them to school everyday for however many hours and then they come home for a couple of hours and go to bed. Nah, it starts at the house, you set it up so when they come back, even if its the weekend, we doing something productive, you know that’s going to be instilled in them that can carry on and pretty much if they need to make money then they got that.
HHF: Did you have any influence in your life like that growing up; what were like some of your musical influences?
Theotis Joe: Yeah well as far as musical influences, I’ve always been into like just music period. I use to listen to a lot of old school, R&B, because my pop he use to play stuff like James Brown, Curtis Mayfield, Marvin Gaye, Otis Redding, a lot of blues. Hip Hop of course, I mean I grew up listening to that late 80’s early 90’s hip hop, I wish that could come back.
As for hip hop, I was kinda influenced by NWA, Too Short, De La Soul, A Tribe Called Quest, I grew up on that, Eric B & Rakim, KRS-One, stuff like that, Big Daddy Kane. As it progressed, then it was Wu-Tang, The Pharcyde, man, I could go on forever.
HHF: So about your sound, if I may, you have these hard-hitting lyrics like NWA but with a more laid back delivery. Where does that come from? I think you referred to it in ‘In My Town’, when you said “… sport a fedora, but got a southpaw…”?
Theotis Joe: “You think I’m soft cuz’ I sport a fedora, hell nah I got a southpaw that’ll rock a hole in your jaw…”. I guess just experience, I love being in rap cyphers. People get together and just spit rhythms and stuff like that, coming up with new stuff and I even rap to myself while I’m making beats and stuff. I guess it all depends on how the beat makes you feel, I learned to rock with the rhythm and just flow to the track like a cowboy on horseback, just flow with it.
(Theotisjoe begins to nod his head to the background music)
HHF: Oh are we about to start freestyling?
HHF: Where can we find the new Ship It Out ep and also the After Hours album?
Theotis Joe: Starting with the Ship It Out ep, its going to be released on August 16 on cdbaby.com and will be available on I-Tunes, Amazon, Spotify, all the digital download sites across the world, even my website, TheotisJoe.com. After Hours is already available on I-Tunes and Amazon and you can find the music on YouTube, I’m on Soundcloud and ReverbNation.
HHF: Thank you so much for sitting down with Hip Hop Forum digital magazine today.
Theotis Joe: Thank you for having me.
West Baltimore native Omi Muhammad is an artist and writer, now based in Philadelphia. To see her work, please go to http://www.urban-gypsy.net/index.html
Omi is part of the New Black Writers Program, managed by Hip Hop Forum Digital Magazine, to support, nurture and develop the talents of Black American journalists of the future.
Like Hip Hop Forum Digital Magazine on Facebook!