HHF Interview: DJ Shaun Hilltop

In this interview, DC-based DJ Shaun Hilltop talks about the “Hilltop Radio Show”, the art of being a DJ, and the three major tours he’s been working on under the “Hilltop Radio Show Entertainment” name.

 Interviewed by Michael ATG


HHF: Thank you, Sir, for taking out of your day to be a part of this interview. Starting off, you’ve been a DJ for over 20 years and grew up watching DJ’s such as Red Alert, Chuck Chillout, but were majorly influenced by your uncle, DJ Eric Thomas. Now my question is, how exactly did your uncle influence you to begin your career?

DJ Shaun Hilltop: (pauses) He influenced me because I used to go to radio stations at that time and load his albums up. Back in the day, the DJs at the radio stations, used to have the turntables. I would load the albums on the turntables for him that particular night, you know that he’s DJ’ing. And that right there kinda … kinda grew a passion, and a love for just watching him, you know DJ, and you know playing old school music from way back in the day. That’s what influenced me to be a DJ today.

HHF: So you basically just put everything in motion for him. You helped him get everything set up.

DJ Shaun Hilltop: Yes, yes sir I did. Sure did.

HHF: OK, years later, when you started off your name was DJ Big Daddy Shaun, right?

DJ Shaun Hilltop: Yeah, DJ Big Daddy Shaun was the DJ name I used in high school and when I got into college, in the college scene, I used that up until I took a break. And I went into officiating college football, high school football, and then I recently – and it’s about ten years now, I came back into DJ’ing, and changed my name to just DJ Shaun.

HHF: You’ve been all over with it and taken every outlet you could possibly take.

DJ Shaun: Yes. Weddings… family reunions… park jams… just little, little events. Anything I could get my hands on, I did it.

HHF: Now, I know of course in the DC Area, and the underground scene you’re a legendary DJ among the airwaves, and off the airwaves. I can say, from what I’ve seen, and what I know, the drive you have is impeccable, to say the least.

DJ Shaun: Right.

HHF: How do you keep it all together? What drives you the most to go so hard, and stay so focused, all these years that you’ve been in the game?

DJ Shaun: (pauses) People man. The artist. The real artist, that are real to the game, currently hip hop. So, so you know, they keep my drive, and my passion, and keep me motivated to be able to, you know, do my radio stations, go on the air and play the music that everybody wants to hear in the clubs, you know clubs, park jams, things like that, etc. The artist, you know, the listeners.

HHF: Ok, just the art of the music fuels you, I understand.

DJ Shaun: Exactly!

HHF: As an artist myself, I 100% understand that the music keeps you going man. It keeps you wanting to keep pushing, I definitely understand that one Sir.

DJ Shaun: And artist like yourself, that’s motivated, and putting 120% into your craft makes MY craft, even better because I know I’m getting good, positive music that the listeners, love, listen, and gravitate to.

HHF: We really bounce off of each other. You know, like, as you get fueled by us and that we push you… The DJ’s pushin’ our music and givin’ us those spins, that only motivates us to go even harder.

DJ Shaun: Exactly, exactly.

HHF: Right, it’s all one big vibe man, that’s how I look at it. And uh, speaking of….

DJ Shaun: (begins to speak)

HHF: I’m sorry, go ahead.

DJ Shaun: And let me jump on this thing. I don’t know if you’re gonna get to this question, I’m probably jumping a little forth, while it’s on my mind.

HHF: You’re fine, go ahead.

DJ Shaun: The art of being a DJ. Being a DJ is just not two turntables, a mixer, a microphone, speakers and a headphone. Being a DJ is you have to tell a story, while you’re mixin’ and scratchin’. You get what I’m sayin’?

HHF: Right, right.

DJ Shaun: It’s like you writing your lyrics, your lyrics are coming from your mind as an artist.

HHF: Yeah, from the heart.

DJ Shaun: And you’re writing it down, and you’re perfecting a story. You’re perfecting a craft. So people can be like, you know when they’re listening to your music, they can close their eyes and be like “Damn, you know I’m feelin’ him, I’m wit’ him on what he’s writing.” And that’s the way that I take my profession into the turntables, because here’s the thing. You wanna keep the crowd pumped up, you wanna keep the crowd on the dance floor.

HHF: Of course, of course

DJ Shaun: By all means necessary. When you know play that one wrong album, or that one wrong song, and people start walking off the dance floor… It’s hard to get them back on the dance floor. So it’s the same thing, DJ’ing is a craft. You have to tell a story with your music.

HHF: Right, you gotta make sure you keep they attention, keep ‘em tuned in.

DJ Shaun: Yessir.


HHF: OK now I know you manage a slew of quality, underground artist as an A&R for IMG records, under Universal Records.

DJ Shaun: Yes.

HHF: A couple of the artist includes; Patricia MyTime, who wrote for SWV, which is one of my favorite old school groups. Now with you managing those artist, you basically gotta, you know, help them along their way as to continue to perfect their own craft, so what’s really the main thing you try to teach your artist, while they’re under your watch to help them succeed?

DJ Shaun: The keyword on that… is patience.

HHF: Yessir. Yes sir.

DJ Shaun: Have patience… Have patience, patience, patience!

HHF: Right, cause that goes a long way …

DJ Shaun: Listen. Listen to what your management is telling you. Understand the music that you’re in. Understand the culture that you’re in. Learn about what you’re doing, then YOU perfect the craft. It’s not all about sitting – of course you know, you’re an artist – it’s not all about sitting down writing a rhyme, going to the studio, and putting it all on an album. It’s all about understanding why you’re writing …

HHF: Yeah, it’s much deeper than that.

DJ Shaun: (continues) what you’re looking for, your purpose. Your purpose, you’re creating something and waiting, and having the patience to get to the next level. You got some artist that rush, and once they rush themselves …

HHF: They wind up flopping.

DJ Shaun: They wind up flat lining. And once you flat line… it’s hard to get back up there again.

HHF: That’s 100% right. That’s 100% right.

DJ Shaun: And make sure you quote me on that…

“The key element of being a talented artist under good management is having patience.”

HHF: Understood. I’m definitely quoting you on that one, Sir. I got you. (Both laugh)

HHF: I’ve already named a couple people, who you felt helped you become the highly respected DJ you are today, who exactly are your Top 3 influences since you’ve been in the game?

DJ Shaun: First one would be, Steven Russell-Harts, of Troop. He’s the number one guy, because we have, a bond and a connection with one another that can’t be broken. I’m his manager. And he believes highly of what I’ve been doing, and I’ve been taking his career to the next level.

Even though, he’s been in the game for 20 plus years, he allows me to come inside his circle, and push him even more. So when he’s being pushed, he’s pushing me also to be the best manager, the best DJ I possibly can.

HHF: Right.

DJ Shaun: And my second one would be Gymini. He used to be formerly of the 69 Boyz. He’s another one. I push him to a higher level. He pushes me to a higher level. I also manage him as well.

HHF: OK. You bounce off of each other.

DJ Shaun: Yes. And my third, the third one I would say, is my business partner – she’s an artist as well – and that’s Rayn Jackson. She the kind of artist, that believes in what we can do as a tag team. And she pushes me, as far as with management, and my DJ. And I push her, as far as management, and her singing career. So they would be my top three, that I would honestly say, yeah.

HHF: Alright, I’m glad you did bring up Rayn Jackson. Because I seen that you dabble into the fashion industry and that you two are in charge of the Entertainment for the Ebony Fashion Fair, in Los Angeles, CA, as well as the “Real Fashion meets Real Music” Tour. What made you wanna get into the whole fashion industry?

DJ Shaun: (pauses) A good friend of mine, Kenneth Sampson, out of Philadelphia. We became friends on Facebook. He inboxed me, and said “DJ Shaun, would you mind coming to Allentown, PA, and DJ’ing this fashion show?”. And I’ve done fashion shows, quote unquote, but nothing to where this fashion show I was particularly involved. I really loved it… enjoyed myself, and everybody enjoyed the music that I was playing, which was old school music like back in the day, you know like Bel Biv Devo… you know, “Percolator”… All those… (pauses)

HHF: The classics, the classics!

DJ Shaun: The classics. They allowed me to come into their house, and that’s the music that I played, and they loved the selection – why? Because it’s like I said earlier, they never left the dance floor. Actually they were coming up to me… (saying) “Can you play this, can you play this, can you play this?”. So the more, and more that you get request, the more and more you can become a better DJ. But that was the reason why I got into fashion, because of Kenneth Sampson. Coming out of Philadelphia.

HHF: That’s very interesting. Alright, I also see you guys are doing big things with the tours and everything too. Speaking of the tours, I want you to break down your current three major projects. You currently have all three projects currently touring the US, under “Hilltop Radio Show Entertainment”; “Silence The Violence”, “Grown And Sexy” and the “Classic 90’s” Tour. What’s your vision behind these projects, how did they really come about?

DJ Shaun: OK, the “Silence The Violence” Tour came about last year, in October. When a couple of young kids I knew, from refereeing – a long, long time ago – got killed.

HHF: Mm. Ah man… R.I.P.

DJ Shaun: It kinda like bothered me a little bit inside. But then I was like you know, I have to do something to not be the ones that talk about… I have to be the ones that’s gonna be about it. So I reached out to Gymini, and I reached out to Bonecrusher. I reached out to JT Money, which are all, you know, mainstream artist and spoke with them about the idea that I had. They took their idea, and now we’re starting our… Our first adventure, with these three in Chicago. What better place to start than Chicago?

HHF: That’s a blessing… Yes. They need it the most, to be honest. They really do, and I haven’t heard from Bonecrusher in a while. So to hear that he’s out here doing positive stuff as well, that’s a major blessing too; that’s a major blessing.

DJ Shaun: Yeah. Bonecrusher, and JT both have two hot singles that are out right now. Which is really, really good and Gymini will be in the studio come next month, and working on his new single. It’s gonna be nice and fun for everybody to tune in and listen to.

As for the “Grown and Sexy” Tour, it’s made up of artist Troop, Public Announcement, Hi-5, and now I added another young group from out of Atlanta called Emerge. These visionaries named Emerge are the up and coming Bad Boys of R&B. And what I mean by “Bad Boys of R&B”… I mean they have that Silk, that H-Town, that Jodeci, that love… The girls will gravitate to them, and love the music that they’re singing.

HHF: OK. That classic R&B feel to ’em.

DJ Shaun: That classic R&B, putting these guys with classic R&B artist. And Steven Russell-Harts will be debuting his new – one of his singles off his new upcoming album in August called “60’s Baby”.

HHF: Do we have a date in August for that?

DJ Shaun: We haven’t really projected a date yet, but it will be launched in August, and “60’s Baby” is the title of that track, of that album. Yeah. And the “Classic R&B” Tour. That again, will be Troop, Hi-5, Public Announcement, Men At Large, and Rude Boys. So we’re bringing back classic 90’s, to everybody that enjoyed the 80’s and 90’s music from these groups.

HHF: Light, that’s gonna be real interesting.

DJ Shaun: Yup, and it’s crazy that I had started promoting this and we already have four cities that wanna buy this package deal with these groups.

HHF: Ah man that’s big.

DJ Shaun: And their all different states, all southern states: Alabama, Georgia, Florida, and Mississippi.

HHF: Shew, the south when it comes music overall – I can’t even just say Hip-Hop – they really been holdin’ it down, and showin’ a lot of support, and they all support each other. I think that’s what really keeps it together, down south. So yeah, that’s major, that’s definitely major right there.

DJ Shaun: Yessir!

HHF: Well I pray all tours go successful, they seem they’re all going real good right now. And as far as all your other ventures, I pray all of those continue to, you know, go well. And everything continues to go good in this career that you’ve already built. I really wanna thank you for your time today.

DJ Shaun: Thank you man, I appreciate it. Just know, Hip Hop Forum Digital Magazine, Number One Hip Hop Magazine in the world! And remember all you artist that are trying to raise to the top… Remember to have patience, and listen to management before you move on. I appreciate you, young man, for taking time out of your schedule, and even considering me to be apart of this awesome magazine.

I also just wanna give a shout out to Tash Porter, you know for getting you guys to contact me as well. Thank You.

HHF: I thank you, Sir. You make sure you have a good one, and God Bless.

DJ Shaun: You do the same, God Bless you as well brotha.

Interviewed by Michael ATG (AttackTheGame), an MC out of Dover, Delaware (born in Long Island, New York), who performs positive, upbeat hip-hop with a message in his lyrics. Following up on his last release, ‘Faith’, Michael is now working on a project called ‘The Journey.’
Michael 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.

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HIP HOP FORUM Interview: MC Sha-Rock, first female emcee in hip-hop culture and original member of the Funky Four

Interviewed by Madeleine Byrne
In this interview MC Sha-Rock takes us back to what it was like being there at the birth of hip-hop, being part of the first ever performance by a hip-hop group on Saturday Night Live, how she developed her distinctive style – so beloved by DMC of Run DMC and her role at the new Universal Hip Hop Museum being set up in the Bronx.

HHF: Thank you so much for talking with us at Hip Hop Forum,  MC Sha-Rock. It’s a great honor to speak with you – one of the most important pioneers in the hip-hop movement; the first female emcee in hip-hop and one of the inventors and founders of fly-girl and b-girl culture. Share with us now how it all started for you …

Sha-Rock: Well, at the whole onset of the hip-hop culture you had to start off as a b-girl as that was what was going on at the time. You had the music, the culture and the sounds of certain breakbeats that were playing so I started off as a b-girl first. Then I winded up getting a flyer for people who wanted to audition for a group; and at the time the group was not the Funky Four, but it was the Brothers Disco.  They were trying to form the Funky Four group. So I auditioned for the Brothers Disco in 1977-1978 and I became not only the first female emcee of hip-hop culture, but also the first female emcee in an all male group, so my activity started before as a b-girl and then I transitioned to an emcee as part of an all male group.

HHF: What was it like in the Bronx at that time?

Sha-Rock: The atmosphere was crazy cause you’re talking about the inception of the culture as we know it. You may hear people like DJ Kool Herc, who is the Father of Hip-Hop, you know he might say that hip-hop started in 1973, but to be honest with you if you’re talking about the people: the hardcore emcees who were rhyming to more than just one rhyme, I mean we were going for more than 16 bars, more than 18 bars (for us it started later). We’d rhyme until the next emcee who was part of your group would pick up where you left off.

For us in New York City we were creating an era, we didn’t know what we were doing. We were young kids, with little or no resources in the South Bronx where the radio wouldn’t play rap music. They really frowned on hip-hop music and the type of music we were listening to. We were breakdancing and going around to different parks and different school yards. The radio didn’t respect it at that time, so you’re talking about a culture that was building up from the b-girl and b-boy to the DJ – the way a DJ would cut a record, from Flash to Theodore to DJ Breakout and Baron …

There was so much going on at that time, with all the elements of hip-hop; it was like a phenomenon. But at the time we didn’t know what we were doing. All we knew was this is what we looked forward to on Friday and Saturday. We were able to get our street cred from just being out there in the parks and we were like celebrities in our own prospective area at that time.

So when you’re talking about 1979 when the world was then able to hear rap music, that was the era when rap music was no longer contained to the streets and the parks, it had then moved into the clubs into people’s households and bars, with the Sugarhill Gang or when we the Funky Four did the first record in 1979. We changed the game as to how hip-hop was portrayed by letting the world in and it was no longer contained in the Bronx, or Manhattan or New York.

HHF: You just mentioned DJ Kool Herc, I know you’ve talked about him before as being a really important person in terms of your development as a hip-hop artist.

Sha-Rock: Well, Herc would play the breakbeat, or DJ Breakout or Baron, or Grandmaster Flash would play the breakbeats of a song. Say James Brown had a song out they wouldn’t play the whole song, they’d just play the breakbeat and then you’d start b-boying and b-girling.

Herc played a significant role in hip-hop and also in b-boying and b-girling because he played the type of music that allowed the b-girls and the b-boys start breakdancing because you couldn’t do that in the clubs that played disco music.

Herc was the one who really allowed the b-boy and the b-girl to express themselves in a manner that respected that dance element of hip-hop culture. A lot of people don’t know who Herc is, but we do owe him much respect and much honor because he gave us that avenue, he gave us that vehicle for us to do what we loved and that was breakdancing and listening to the breakbeats.

HHF: So this audition to join the group that’d become the Funky Four was in 1977, right?

Sha-Rock: Yes, late 77, early 78. I auditioned and at the time, I don’t know if the Brothers Disco was looking for females, all I know is that I heard Melle Mel on tape. I never heard any other females who were out there, but I thought I could do just as good as the guys did because I was influenced by James Brown. I was influenced by Nikki Giovanni. I was influenced by Gladys Knight and the Pips and the Jackson Five. So once I heard (other emcees) rhyming on tape I thought I could do the same, or even better – not knowing that I was about to make history and become the first female emcee of hip-hop culture.

HHF: And you were so young, you would have been a teenager at this time …

Sha-Rock: Yeah, I was like 16 years old just coming from junior high school to high school.


HHF: Can you remember the first rhyme you wrote?

Sha-Rock: The first rhyme that I wrote was: ‘I’m Sha-Rock and I can’t be stopped/For all you fly-guys I will hit the top.’  That rhyme has become synonymous (with me) and was on the t-shirt, ‘I’m Sha-Rock and I can’t be stopped’ that was photographed in 1980. That was one of the first rhymes that I wrote and always used to solidify who I am, and who I was at the time.

I was like a celebrity in my own area but I was humble as this was something I loved to do like the other guys who was out there with me at the time, the Funky Four. We were a group that set the standards. Lots of people have heard of Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five, but the Funky Four were like the unsung heroes of hip-hop at that time.

We created a lot of different styles and contributions to the culture. We were the first rap group that was on national TV. We were from the streets; we weren’t a group that had been put together in 1979 like some other groups were. We were from the streets in New York City, together rocking in the parks and the schoolyards and the youth centers, even before we made a record.

HHF: Let’s talk then about the Funky Four and the line-up …

Sha-Rock: I was part of the original Funky Four. The original Funky Four consisted of myself, Raheim – who went over to Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five later on –  K.K. Rockwell and then Keith Keith. We were the original Funky Four.

I winded up leaving the group for a month or two and then I came back to the group – I became the plus one more. During that time there was just two members they added Li’l Rodney C and Jazzy Jeff. Once I came back I became plus one more, but I was originally part of the first group.

HHF: Thinking about your music, I noticed in an interview you said that something special about the Funky Four the group’s ‘rhyming and harmonizing’. What do you mean by harmonizing?

Sha-Rock: Well, harmonizing back then was when we’d take (the tune) from a sitcom from TV, say you have ‘Gilligan’s Island’ you may have a commercial. Take a commercial or a sitcom and whatever the music was, we’d change it into a rap style and we’d harmonize, go back and forth and do chants and go back and forth in the group: not singing but harmonizing in a tune that maybe was on TV at that time.

For me, I used to rehearse my rhymes because when I said it I wanted people to be mesmerized by my voice. I wanted them to leave the party and say Sha-Rock is a dope emcee, I’m going to come back and see her again. What I would do was practise my delivery in the mirror and I would write my rhymes and say them in a way that people can understand but also relate to it, so they felt they were a part of my rhymes. They felt they were a part of me.

That was the whole idea back then to include the people who came to see you. You had to make them feel that they were a part of your life. They were part of your rhyme. They were part of hip-hop. That’s what I learned growing up as one of the pioneer emcees, it was never about me, it was never about the group, it was making sure that people who paid their two dollars or their three dollars to come see you, when they left, they said, I’m going to come back next week because I, Sha-Rock is the dopest emcee, or the Funky Four is the dopest group here in New York City.

It was about making sure the people who came to see you was included in what you were doing. It wasn’t about you. It was about them. It was about making sure they came back, because unfortunately unlike today we didn’t have the music, the songs all around us. Nowadays when you have rappers, or emcees their songs are being played on the radio, when they go on concert people know their songs; so they’re hyped, they’re dancing up and down, cause they know their songs. They have it easy now. They have the best of both worlds.

When I was starting out you had to prove yourself to your audience. You had to prove yourself to the hip-hop community because they were not playing our songs on the radio. So we were young entrepreneurs with little or no resources. How you got your street cred was being the best you could be for your audience. They were crucial. If you wasn’t making the cut, they wouldn’t come and see you. It wasn’t easy for us then, because we didn’t have that outlet of  radio playing our songs.

When they really did start playing hip-hop songs on the radio in 1979 it was only a select few that would get on the radio. They wouldn’t play two, or three rap songs at one time. As a hip-hop emcee you had to prove yourself on the street cause you didn’t have  the opportunity to get heard on the radio.

HHF: But maybe though you were also closer to the community because of this …

Sha-Rock: Absolutely, absolutely.

On the 14th February, 1981 The Funky Four plus one performed on Saturday Night Live – thereby making history as the first rap or hip-hop group to appear on US national television

Sha-Rock: When we did ‘Saturday Night Live’ – Deborah Harry of the legendary group, Blondie – could have chosen any of the rap groups in New York City because she was very aware of Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five, but what she did was went she sought out us, simply because there was a female member in the group. She wanted the world to be able to see that – yes, you might have seen the Sugarhill Gang, but this (the Funky Four) was a group on the streets of New York City, one of the baddest groups in New York city – if not the baddest – but they also had a female. They wanted the world to see on a whole different level that this is a female that was rocking back in New York City and a pioneer.

I can commend her for this, because what she did was expose us to more than just the community or Tri-state area, she exposed us to the world. And we made history and we maybe didn’t know this until a decade later by becoming the first hip-hop group on TV,  and not just the first hip-hop group the first original hip-hop group that wasn’t only a rap group.

HHF: I watched the SNL video today, it’s a great performance. The DJ, was that the regular DJ you had for most of your performances?

Sha-Rock: Yeah, DJ Breakout.

HHF: Another Funky Four video I found is you guys doing ‘Rappin’ and Rockin’ The House’ shot at the Kitchen in 1980. That’s a beautiful performance, so sweet and controlled: perfect. Do you remember that show?

Sha-Rock: Yes, I do remember it. You see this is the thing. The Funky Four was the only group that were performing in those types of places (like the Kitchen in Manhattan). You’re talking about a whole new genre of music that we were breaking in that era. These were punk rockers, these were punk rockers who were listening to all different types of punk rocker songs and whatever. When we brought hip-hop to them, they were loving it because we were known for bringing a whole new style of music to punk rockers, they can incorporate and have fun at the same time. We was the first group to bring hip-hop to different genres of people, who would not normally listen to rap music.

We always wanted to perform for that genre of people, because they loved it. They felt it. They’d jump up and down and be mesmerized. It’s a good feeling when you know you’ve been accepted by other cultures and other genres of people who normally wouldn’t listen to this type of music. That was a good feeling we knew we were being accepted by this crowd of people, who would follow us all over the place. We’d pack out the Ritz, we’d pack out the Kitchen – all these venues in Soho,  downtown Manhattan.

In order to be good you needed to play in these venues and we’d go down there all the time, you know, go down to the Village.

HHF: Still many decades on, the music is still great. Let’s talk about ‘That’s the Joint’ which is probably your most famous track. Talk a little about the musicians who played with you.

Sha-Rock: Okay, so what we did, well this is what hip-hop is all about. Every song you hear – let’s just say ‘Rappers Delight’ by the Sugarhill Gang, that song is called ‘Good Times’ (by Chic) a song we were rapping to that song on the streets of New York prior to the Sugarhill Gang. That was the song that was part of the hip-hop community that every emcee was rocking to, what Sylvia Robinson did at Sugar Hill Records she heard the song, put the Sugarhill Gang together and put out the song and it became a hit.

Everyone who was part of Sugar Hill Records used the same band because ‘That’s the Joint’ was the hottest song out at the time – I’m talking about the original music – we took the song and made it a hip-hop song. A lot of times, a song that maybe an R&B artist did, and then a hip-hop person came along it ended up selling more records than the actual, original artist did.

Now the Sugarhill band was very good at imitating what the original artists did. They would change it a little bit, the beats to make it sound different. But the Sugarhill Band was a good band to make the music and make it sound exactly how we wanted, or a little better. The Sugarhill Band created all the music.

HHF: Talking about labels, you first released a record with Enjoy Records in 1979. As far as I understand it this was the record put out by a hip-hop group in the US ..

Sha-Rock: Yes, yes. Funky Four plus one. So we’re talking about Bobby Robinson he owned Enjoy Records, he asked around who is the hottest group in New York City? Now of course Grandmaster Flash was out, but he was told to go to the Funky Four plus one, so he approached our manager and said he wanted to do a record with us.

We used a friend of ours, by the name of Pumpkin who was a drummer (to play on the record).  The rhymes we used were rhymes we normally used on the street of New York, we used them every day. It only took us like an hour or so to do the record; simply because we already had our rhymes. Everybody in the group knew when to come after the next person.

And Pumpkin, what he did was he did the same thing on the drums and did it in one take. We didn’t have to go back and forth. Everything was done live in a little studio at the back of Bobby Robinson’s record shop; recorded in one take and boom! It was a hit. The Funky Four plus one ‘Rappin’ and rockin’ the house’ was the first longest-running rap record in the history of hip-hop.

HHF: Is there anything else you’d like to add about this time?

Sha-Rock: For me this was the golden period, the inception of hip-hop and set the standards of what hip-hop is supposed to be, or what Mc-ing and the elements. It was the blueprint of it all. For me I think and for a lot of emcees who were there you have the best of both worlds. You see how it was back then and see how it is now. I’m fortunate enough I have both; other women can’t speak on what it was like from the 70s, hooking up the equipment and carrying the crates, you know and not getting the money for what you did (cause that wasn’t an issue at that time).

It was just rocking for the love of your peers who are coming to see you.

When people say you should have made the money, look at what it is (as a business) today that doesn’t bother me because when I leave this world, the best thing that I got was the joy and the knowledge of what it was and what it should be and what I helped create as an emcee and as a pioneer and as a woman in the culture of hip-hop.

That’s my payola. I can talk about what it was and how it was and how it should be and what it’s meant to be.

HHF: In an interview you’ve talked about a ‘code of ethics’ in hip-hop culture, is that what you’re referring to now; hip-hop as a way of being, a way of living?

Sha-Rock: Yeah, I am. My thing is that a lot of times, people say the emcees of today, the rappers of today don’t respect the culture. They don’t do this and that. My thing is that we’re not here to judge the youth because unless you teach, unless you inform how do you blame them for not knowing anything? You have to give them options, you have to let them know. You have to inform. You have to educate and then you let them decide on how they’re going to move around. We as elders of hip-hop culture should never – how do I say it? – point fingers at the youth of today. Unless you out there educating and informing them as to what the culture was built on then you have something to say.

If you give them tools to work with, let them decide on how they’re going to move: until then you can’t judge them cause they know not what it was, or what it was meant to be. Not saying you have to conform to what it was, but if you have a general knowledge of what it is it makes you a better artist. Then all you have to do is adapt and incorporate to take it to  a whole another level, instead of staying in that one box. It gives you a better understanding of where you’re going and how you can have longevity.

HHF: Are you talking about knowledge of the different elements of hip-hop culture?

Sha-Rock: Yes, I’m talking about everything; I’m talking about graffiti, I’m talking about MC-ing; I’m talking about b-girls and b-boys, I’m talking about all elements. In order for you to understand what hip-hop was built on, the culture, it’s good to have an understanding of where it comes from. Even when you’re talking about breakdancing and all that stuff, all that was being done prior to hip-hop culture. What we did we just enhanced it to a whole another level. If you can expound on that and where it come from it can only make you a better artist, a better graf artist, make you a better b-girl, b-boy, emcee.

If you have the elements and the formation of everything and how it came into play. You can then have longevity in the game and adapt to what is going on now, or try to have that song or dance move or specific art-form that twenty, thirty or forty years down the line people can go back and remember your worth.

Or they can say a rhyme you did, or play a song on the radio whenever it is thirty, forty years down the line people can say:  ‘That’s my joint, that used to be my joint.’ If you are an artist, you want to make a song that will stand out many years from now, so if you can learn from other people and learn how you got to where you are: it’s a good thing to incorporate this knowledge of what it was before.

HHF: Now you featured in the classic movie, Beat Street from 1984 with two other female emcees (Debbie D and Lisa Lee) doing the track ‘Us Girls’ can you talk about how this came about?

Sha-Rock: At the time I was under contract at Sugarhill Records, Debbie D and Lisa Lee were not under contract, so they were holding an audition down at the Roxy, a club down at 18th street in New York so a lot of hip-hop people would go. It was really a skating-rink but they hold hip-hop functions. Harry Belafonte was holding auditions for Beat Street – so I’d gotten a flyer. Debbie D was a soloist and Lisa Lee was part of the Afrika Bambaataa camp. Me and Lisa was pretty tight, I was under contract to Sugar Hill Records but also part of the Funky Four group.

But we were going through a break-up with Sugar Hill Records, so I didn’t know if Sylvia (Robinson) would let me be part of the movie. There were many people trying to be part of the movie: one of the ladies there said us three girls are the best female emcees in New York City and we really want to be in the movie. So we got called down that Tuesday, we went to audition and Harry Belafonte said we want you to be in the movie, he said sign it here and we’ll let you know what’s going on. But I said I’m part of a record label, but the other girls are not so I might have a problem being in the movie if I have to sign, what do I need to do?

He said, who are you signed to? I gave him Sylvia Robinson’s information and said, can you call her and see whether or not she’ll allow me to do it? So I was nervous cause the rest of the girls , they weren’t under contract so I was thinking, man they’re going to get in the movie and I won’t be able to be in the movie. I guess Harry Belafonte worked it out with Sylvia Robinson, before I knew it he told me I could to it.

The agreement they made was that they would use the Furious Five and they were going to write the hook for Beat Street – so that’s how I was able to do it and that’s how the Furious Five got to do it, how Melle Mel was able to do the theme song, it was me putting Harry Belafonte putting him in touch with Sylvia Robinson.

HHF: Let’s now talk about your style, your delivery. As you know you’ve got some serious fans: say, DMC from Run DMC who has talked about the way he loved the way you used the ‘echo chamber’ on your voice and how hearing you ‘changed (his) life’.

Sha-Rock: Right, right …

HHF: While DJ Grand Wizard Theodore has celebrated you for the way were able to ‘tell a story that we can all visualise ..’ Thinking back, what were you most trying to achieve in terms of your style and content?

Sha-Rock: As I said before, and I want to give a shout-out to DMC for him to say that – as a multi-platinum selling artist and as guy … Most guys these days and back then would never give a female props, simply because you were in contest with the males and no male wanted to say a female was just as good, or better than them.

When he said that I was happy, but it’s a gift and a curse cause he’s saying I was better than a lot of males out there. For someone of his status to come out and say that was the ultimate. What he was saying was that I was the first to use the echo chamber, the echo chamber was an instrument that would repeat the word you said. If I said, ‘yes, yes y’all…’ It’d repeat what I said, ‘yes, yes y’all.’ My manager, Jazzy D would hit the echo chamber to make it precisely timed so everything would connect, sharp. So what DMC is talking about is when he heard my voice on a cassette tape, I guess he was going to school up in Manhattan, my voice used to be on tapes with the Funky Four and float around every borough of New York City.

So when it was time for him and Run to make their album, he told Davy D that he wanted to sound exactly like me using the echo chamber. I never knew this until he made a tape and wanted me to have it so I could get my props, as Sha-Rock from the Funky Four plus one to say that I inspired him when making the Tougher than Leather album to add on the echo chamber.

He’s basically talking about my delivery and my rhyme and how I used the echo chamber for my rhymes to be on point and take my rhyming skills to a whole different level.

HHF: DMC also liked the content about what you rhymed about too; he said loved the fact you rapped about everyday subjects that were relevant to young people: taking the subway, going to school, sneakers … everyday stuff, talking about your life.

Sha-Rock: Basically we talked about stuff in our era, we talked about basic teenager stuff and what was going on in your community, or your surroundings at that time. As a person,  you’d brag and you’d boast about you was an an emcee, or as a female, without being derogatory. You’d say stuff that was more like you’d like people say, hmm but it wasn’t too derogatory.

With the Funky Four we did tell stories, me I told stories about my everyday life. You’d brag on: you could do this, or do that, or I’m the best female in this town, I’m the best emcee. You’d basically be bragging on what you did, to show your audience that you were the best of the best, but still show the respect to the next person who was rhyming.

You’d be like, ‘They’re good, but I’m still the best.’ That’s what I used to rap about but at the same time being respectful to the next female, still saying, ‘I’m the best.’ People loved it back then because even though you were bragging about yourself, it was kind of true. You’d just boast about you as a person; that’s what emcees did, they’d tell a story and incorporate different aspects of their lives and put everything together.

HHF: Now just to finish, can you talk about your role as the Chairperson of Women in Hip-Hop for the Universal Hip-Hop Museum that’s being developed now. Can you talk to me about the Museum itself, I went online and saw the site (http://www.uhhm.org/): it’s going to be a virtual museum, but also have a site in the Bronx, is that right?

Sha-Rock: Yeah, it’s going to be in the Bronx, what we’re trying to do is have the Old Courthouse in the South Bronx, that is the location we’re trying to secure. It’s going to have a virtual element, people will be able to see people like Kurtis Blow talking like he is right there with them. You’re going to have material from artists back in the day and from today. The Bronx is where hip-hop started, but this museum is not just about the Bronx it’s about artists from all over the world. We want people to understand this, when the museum opens up it’s not only about the Bronx and New York City, it’s about the history of artists from everywhere.

The Bronx is the best place to have it, because it started there, but it’s the Universal Hip Hop Museum.

HHF: And what are you doing as the Chairperson of Women in Hip-Hop?

Sha-Rock: My basic duties is to preserve the history of women in hip-hop, so this is one of the things I’m very adamant about, I’m proud to be part of a project of this caliber because I think that a lot of men and women don’t understand that women have been at the forefront of hip-hop since the inception. A lot of people say women started in the 80s cause they just know Salt n Pepa, or MC Lyte or Roxanne Shanté. Those women have brought a lot to this culture and did a lot for the music industry and should be commended for leading the way and carrying on the hip-hop culture, but there have also been women at the front-line from day one.

It’s very important that when we have the history and culture of hip-hop that we preserve the history of women past, present and future. This is why I’m very adamant that we maintain all the history, from the Nicki Minajs to the Sha-Rocks; to the Roxanne  Shantés to the Iggy Azaleas, regardless of what people say these are people who still contribute with their music to hip-hop. It’s important for us to preserve the history for many years to come.

When you talk about it, and this is no disrespect to the guys, a lot of the time it’s like they were in it all by themselves moving this culture forward and that’s not true. The women were on the front-lines and they still have a role moving the culture forward. My job is to celebrate women, to celebrate all women around the world who have contributed to hip-hop culture and we will preserve their history in hip-hop; that’s what it’s all about.

HHF: I noticed in June this year there’s going to be an event in New York linked to this, ‘Women in Hip-Hop’ is that right?

Sha-Rock: Yes, I’m holding an event under the Universal Hip Hop Museum on June 3rd through to June 5th. The first night is going to be a celebration at the Alhambra Ballroom in Harlem, in New York City on Friday night.

(For more information on the event and to buy tickets, go to https://www.eventbrite.com/e/the-universal-hip-hop-museum-women-in-hip-hop-gala-tickets-21644045924)

We’re expecting women from around the world to come and support each other in hip-hop, whether you’re a b-girl, or a graf artist, or an emcee, or if hip-hop has touched your life in any way. Those three days are you for you to come to celebrate with us.

It’s not all the time we get this chance to do this, I’m very adamant that we need to be in the house together celebrating each other, as women. The first night is a celebration. The second day, June 4th is a forum, we have people like Angie Stone from the first female group from the South, the Sequence, she’s going to speak and perform. We’re going to have lots of different women who are going to come together and celebrate women. And we’re going to be looking for the new school as well, women in hip-hop today to come out and celebrate with us as well.

At the forum we’re going to have speakers come out and talk about the industry, the entertainment industry and their experiences. The third day we have a women in hip-hop picnic, where people will come out and celebrate in a park and we’ll have fun, cause that’s what hip-hop is about, having fun with no worries; no nothing and women coming together.

We will show the world that this needs to be done every year, for women in hip-hop: us getting together, making sure we celebrate each other in hip-hop. We are women from the front-line who carry hip-hop in our hearts to this day.

HHF: Total respect to you MC Sha-Rock for speaking with Hip Hop Forum today and wishing you well for all your work keeping hip-hop history and culture alive. Thank you for your time.

Sha-Rock: You’re welcome. Thank you.

To  learn more about MC Sha-Rock – including the book she wrote about her life in hip-hop, Luminary Icon – have a look at her official site http://mcsharockonline.com/

For information about the Universal Hip Hop Museum, go to http://www.uhhm.org/

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Zulu Nation, Bronx Based B-Boy/MC/Graffiti Artist Chief69 Talks To Hip Hop Forum

Interviewed by Madeleine Byrne
Chief69 is a Bronx based Bboy/Emcee/ Graffiti writer/educator of Puerto Rican descent, inspired by Rammellzee, Mr Wiggles, Keith Haring, KRS-One, Immortal Technique, Brother J (X Clan), Frosty Freeze, among others. Member of Zulu Nation and President of the Mecca chapter of The Bronx Boys Rocking Crew, Chief69 is keeping the spirit of the pioneers alive in his ‘positive and consciously imaginative works of art and performance pieces’.
Here in this extended three-part interview with Hip Hop Forum Chief69 takes us back to the beginnings of hip-hop culture in the Bronx, to then talk about the foundations, spiritual dimensions of b-boying. Towards the end, Chief69 gives his take on education/miseducation in the US and hip-hop politics. Thanks Chief69 for sharing some knowledge with us.




HHF: Could you describe those very early days of b-boying, or rocking – back in the 70s?

Chief69: At that time you had a lot of different parties in the neighbourhood, in school yards, community centers, project housing centers. Usually it was in the evening, sometimes you had them sporadically in the afternoons and they (the parties) would pop up all over the Bronx, not just in one part of the Bronx, not just from one DJ and not just from one person. DJ Kool Herc was one of the first to play more of the funk sounds cause at that time people were playing more disco.

Back then at these parties it was people of all ages; if they were in the day-time, if they were in evening it was usually more an older crowd, like late teenagers or adults, but this was definitely a youth movement. You know this was the 70s so they were cutting out the funding to after-school programs, that’s why a lot of these kids were on the street; they were cutting out funding to teach them to play instruments so that’s why a lot of these kids made their own instruments, using turntables as instruments. They weren’t in bands, they couldn’t afford that. They couldn’t afford nice art supplies so they painted on the trains.

You would walk into one of these jams, if you got invited or if you stumbled upon it, you’d hear music in the neighborhood and you’ll just start walking near it and it was like, hey what’s going on, you know. You’d get closer and feel the vibration and you would feel the energy and it would make you want to dance, cause it’s feel good music, which is that whole funk, soul thing. Usually the DJs would bring their own friends to carry records; some of them later on would have friends who’d make announcements, they were the very early emcees. The DJs were always like the superstars of these events, the b-boys and b-girls weren’t the superstars unless they were really, really talented.

HHF: I can hear a great love for this era in your voice, what prompted this interest for you? Your dad introduced you to hip-hop …

Chief69: Yeah

HHF: What is it about this era that so impresses you?

Chief69: Well, yeah, I was born in 91, so I wasn’t around for none of this (laughs). However, I identify it as the original foundation and essence of the whole hip-hop movement. Those first ten years you could say before a hip-hop record was ever recorded before an emcee ever spoke words into a microphone … A lot of people forget there was at least a decade before in the culture. These were the formative years. Everyone was experimenting musically; everyone was experimenting artistically; everyone was experimenting with the dance; everyone was trying to figure out where they were going to take this and no-one knew.

The mid-late 70s at the same time you have a lot of other things in America going on, especially on the north-east coast: you had a lot of police brutality, you had salsa music coming out of the Bronx.

The heavy metal/punk scene was coming out of the East Coast. The Civil Rights movement carried on you had all these movements, like the Black Panther Party, The Young Lords. A lot of these people would mingle and interact with the hip-hop crowd.

Some of the hip-hop people, in those early years, in those formative years were politicised; a lot of them were not though, a lot of them just did this because it was fun. They weren’t going to school, they’d go to these jams, get high, drink. It was their childhood.

This was the time when a lot of New York and the Bronx was abandoned by government funding. Things were really rough, even compared to the 90s and the 80s in New York City which were also rough. This is why I like the era; it’s captivating in the lens of looking at it from a historical point of view. It’s just probably the most interesting time that we will never see again in New York’s history and probably human history.

HHF: You’ve talked about the way your work connects with your ‘ancestors’ – the pioneers – could you expand on that a little more. Why is this important for you?

Chief69: I think it’s important because a lot of them come from my neighborhood – a lot of them come from the same circumstances as me. I live in the hood. I don’t live in a very nice place in New York City on 5th Ave. I don’t shop at the Gucci store, I go to the corner-store (laughs) and buy my clothes from discount places; I’m like any other person out here. As far as my generation of millennials a lot of us grew as Hot 97 babies, we grew up in the whole bling-bling era when the music was leaving that New York sound and going down south. Even if I have a lot of passion for that New York sound, a lot of it is lost. When you look at the dance today, you don’t really see the foundations any more. You don’t see that New York Bronx style, when I dance I keep that alive. On the graffiti aspect, you don’t really see people coming back to the roots and making those connections, because graffiti is worldwide now and it’s become commercialised to a degree. The Bronx even to this day has always been the bastard child of the culture.

HHF: I know you have links to two groups: The Bronx Boys Rocking Crew – TBB (est. 1975) and the Zulu Nation (est 1973) … How are you continuing this legacy?

Chief69: Basically I got down with The Bronx Boys Rocking Crew and Zulu Nation in 2010-2011, as far as TBB, I’m the President of the TBB mecca chapter – which is a big honor that was bestowed upon me. We are international, we have members all over the world. Our crew is one of the first dance crews ever. We do performances, we do battles. We enter dance competitions. We have a lot of members who are into other elements, sometimes they are passionate about hip-hop, or they’re cool and down with the family.

It’s always been like that, ever since the beginning. Like a lot of the b-boys over the years would have like a little sister and the little sister might show them some dance moves and she would be a b-girl temporarily; or they might have a girlfriend and that girlfriend, or significant other, might learn the moves, or may take it seriously.

There hasn’t been a lot of b-girls in the formative years, however I heard of a whole b-girl crew in Queens. I heard of a few b-girls who were talented and a lot of the guys respected them but a lot of those stories are not being told because there was a large lack of female energy, always even to this day. Not to say it doesn’t exist, it does exist and there are definitely honorable women, but often when it comes to the music they have to sacrifice their individuality it seems. When it comes to the dance, competitions have a lot of politics. Recently though you see a lot of girls entering competitions all over the world and this is beautiful to see today.

HHF: Let’s focus in on the dance, you’ve talked about the foundations, what do you mean by that in terms of b-boying/b-girling?

Chief69: When we say hip-hop dance, we’re talking about b-boying/b-girling because it started in the Bronx, right. The dance started uptop, with what we call the Bo-oi-oing, it’s basically a hopping style of what we call top-rock, where you’re bouncing – you’re bouncing from side to side to the beat. It’s still a dance, it’s within the movement of top-rock, which is everything you do standing up. In the early years everybody would do it standing up with what we call uprocking, or top-rock. A lot of it consisted of steps, jumps, slides – mixing things, like a lot of the Puerto Ricans would mix salsa hip movements, Latin formal dance movements and mix that with funk party movements.

A lot of the early b-boys and DJs all had African roots and in the Caribbean islands. In all the islands – Jamaica, Cuba, Haiti, Puerto Rico, Bahamas, Trinidad … – there are many different dances that come from different parts of Africa where you have a drummer, a dancer. Usually the drummer follows the dancer and they’d call it different names from island to island, but basically those movements came into b-boying.

Alongside that a lot of the movements came from what people saw on TV, by the mid-to late 70s you had ‘Soul Train’ it introduced other moves of dancing that came from the West Coast, like locking from the Campbell Lockers and popping that came from the Electric Boogaloo. When people started seeing this by the mid-late 70s, by the 80s, you had a whole popping scene in New York City. You see in the 80s, if you look at the footage they mix b-boying with popping because it was popular at the time, but in the early days you didn’t have no-one like popping, in the 70s everyone was uprocking, or b-boying strictly and doing party movements.

HHF: Speaking generally, it seems like a language, where if you’re battling another guy you respond to what they do; is that true, it’s like a language of movements?

Chief69: It depends on the context. For example, if I’m in what we call a cypher … First, the term cypher, a lot of people don’t understand where it comes from, the term comes from The Nation of Gods and Earths, the 5 per centers, the term cypher is a circle you build a 360 degree circle, basically we’re exchanging knowledge, so whether it’s a DJ cypher, with a turntable set-up, the DJ will do their routine and then the next DJ will come in, so they’re having a conversation. If you have a dance cypher, you have a circle and we exchange our movements. Or I might dance however I feel, do a freestyle, or I might do a routine that I’ve been working on to impress the other dancers, or maybe I want to impress a female in the crowd, who’ll think oh wow, he’s an amazing dancer (laughs). There are many different ways of seeing it.

We might also have what we call battles, or call-outs where within the cypher someone might get offended, someone may feel like they have something to prove because they come from a different neighborhood, or they come from a different block. You live on 149th and they live on 148th, they’re going to battle you and represent their block and their friends are watching. Those really early years are often glorified as super-happy and friendly, but a lot of times it really wasn’t. In a lot of these battles people took it too seriously and they’d shoot stuff but you don’t hear that a lot.

The media tends to portray it as soft, like kids who are not violent are doing this, when a lot of these dances were created by the most violent people. They were created by thugs of the neighborhood. A lot of the early b-boys were stick up kids. When they weren’t dancing they’d go stick up some people; they weren’t going to school, they were getting high that’s the real stuff that was going on. Not everyone, but a lot of them were. They weren’t bad kids. They were dealing with the circumstances they were given. The dance, like the general culture was what they were exposed to. A lot of these people grew up to become like councillors, a lot of them grew up to become activists. A lot of them were later politicised, a lot of them were locked up.

Chief 11 19 15 ed w-1

HHF: You’ve talked about the ‘spiritual’ dimensions of what you do, you’ve talked about honoring your ancestors, remembering those who have passed. When you’re actually dancing do you feel like there is a spiritual component to what you do?

Chief69: I think it is definitely like a spiritual experience. I look at it this way, if I’m dancing to James Brown, right, or any other funk music especially if it’s a live band recording, I’m feeling that energy that somebody might have felt in the 70s in a concert arena, seeing this band five feet from them. I feel that energy. Some of these band members, most of the band members are not very well-known by dancers of hip-hop yet we sample this music all the time. A lot of people don’t know who the band members are, I think that’s kind of sad. But at least as dancers we get to appreciate them a little bit more than the emcees, or the graffiti writers, or maybe even a little bit more than the DJs. While the DJs are like playing with the music, we’re really taking it in, it’s making us jump. It’s making us dive, making us spin. We’re like losing ourselves in the rhythm. It’s definitely spiritual. It’s like when you see a basketball, or baseball game you get really enthusiastic about it, when Michael Jordan goes for a slam-dunk you get lost in the moment as a spectator, but you even get more lost as the person making the dunk (laughs).

That’s how the dance is for us. We’re not a spectator. The DJ is a spectator, even though they’re like a wizard, the DJ is like a wizard because they’re giving us the magic. They’re making a magical experience for us, but we’re the one in the magic. We’re in the moment. When we dance we get to forget our daily issues. We get to forget, hey maybe I’m poor. For this dance, maybe for these few hours, I’m rich. For these few hours, I’m Bruce Lee. For these few hours, I’m Superman in my neighborhood. Then when I leave the dance floor it’s back to 9-5, it’s back to reality. That’s why the dance is so special.


HHF: One comment you made in an interview that I found really interesting was that ‘hip-hop is linked to the idea of taking back public property’. You were talking about how in New York dancers often hustle on the street (in Manhattan, or wherever), but that comment seemed to me to have a broader political meaning as well. Could you explore this?

Chief69: It’s definitely political. Hip-hop from its inception if you look at the early jams, there were no permits. They had no permission from the city to connect their electricity to the light post in the neighborhood. They also sometimes had no permission to go into a school yard; they also had no permission to dance even in the early parties at popular venues in New York City they didn’t accept the b-boys and b-girls because disco was popular. They kicked us out as a people so this forced us to create underground spots. If people had a garage, they’d open up their garage for people to dance in. If you had street gangs in the 70s who had a clubhouse, then the clubhouse would be were the party was. A lot of those clubhouses were abandoned buildings where they weren’t paying rent (laughs) it was like a political statement you know.

If you look at the history of groups like the Savage Skulls, with the Young Lords they had altercations against police. The Young Lords took over the Statue of Liberty in the 70s twice and put a big Puerto Rican flag on the crown of the Statue of Liberty, which I think is an amazing action in itself. A lot of them were friends with b-boys and b-girls, I bet you they had hip-hop in their fire, in their essence.

HHF: Going back to your comment though, you were talking about people hustling on the street and then having trouble with police. Your comment interests me because it’s about reclaiming the streets, reclaiming the city and the way dance allows young people from poor neighborhoods to make money. Both of these idea have a political dimension.

Chief69: When it comes to people dancing in the street, or doing their artwork, if you’re from the environment where I’m from, the Bronx today, it’s no different politically from 40 years ago when hip-hop was starting. The Bronx is the poorest congressional district in the United States. The Bronx has a very high unemployment rate for people aged 18-25, that’s definitely my age range and the age range of most of the people who do this dance. A lot of the people who do this dance are drop-outs, it’s hard for them to get a job; a lot of them have records. If you look at the average person, a young man of color or a young woman of color – it’s usually young men though, it’s much easier to be positive and dance for money. The reason why the city doesn’t like it is because they say we block the street, so people can’t walk by, or we blast music too loud so it becomes a disturbance to businesses. Or they even say things like it’s ‘poor taste’. I’ve heard all kinds of things from cops and the system. We’ve had our speakers taken, this has been going on for years, the same way they confiscate narcotics when they catch people in the street with that. I get it it’s an illegal substance, they’re just doing their job.

But if we’re just dancing in the street, or doing artwork, they shouldn’t confiscate (our stuff) – it’s our property, but we never get it back. Some of the dancers hustle so they can feed their kids, you know.

HHF: Let’s now talk about knowledge, you’re also a teacher and see this as an important part of your role, right.

Chief69: Yes

HHF: You’ve said that the main issue facing young people is education, or more miseducation, can you talk about that more?

Chief69: When I’m speaking about this I’m talking about the United States. They teach you many different things – you can become an educated person however a lot of it is just memorizing information. In the American educational school system they don’t necessarily teach us the things that would help us become successful people. They used to teach music and mechanics and carpentry in New York City, they don’t teach any of that now.

One of the beautiful things in the hip-hop context though is I actually go to colleges and I speak. I speak about hip-hop culture; a lot of these colleges have courses on hip-hop and urban culture and what was going on in the 70s. These are things I’m thinking about every day and it’s reflected in my culture and my music, the dance and graffiti.

When I go to college I’m putting them on to .. well they could search it on Google but they wouldn’t know what to look up. They can read all the books in the world, but there are lots of things that are not in the books which I shared with you today. I think it’s always interesting to meet someone first-hand who is within something. You can learn martial arts if you wanted to if you practised the moves but you’re not going to get the philosophy that a teacher would sit down and give you. That’s part of the whole miseducation thing and education in general. A lot of people learn about hip-hop culture, they learn about Black culture, they learn about urban culture from an outside perspective. You have professors at colleges doing lectures on hip-hop who have never even visited the hood. They have never left their comfort zone, they’ve never come on a subway train in New York City; they’ve never seen a fight on the street; they’ve never had a 50 cent bag of chips and a 50 cent soda (laughs). A lot of those little things – this environment, this is part of hip-hop. There is a reason why this environment created this energy and why it still does.

A lot of people confuse hip-hop with the street culture and gangs, it was never about that. Those people eventually came into the conversation because hip-hop embraces everyone, which is the gift and the curse of this blessing. But back to the education thing, for someone like me it’s kind of special cause I graduated high school but I didn’t attend college but I get to speak at colleges and high schools all the time about what I do. I generally tell them this information and have these discussions for free, but it’s kind of cool for me to stab the schools back, you know. I slap them in the face cause I get some of their budget (laughs) but I’m educated to know often enough it’s stolen money anyway, because a lot of these colleges were formed upon plantations and plantation owners’ money. But they don’t often want to have those conversations, you know.

HHF: How does Zulu Nation fit in here?

Chief69: Afrika Bambaataa, one of the founders of Zulu Nation, was one of the first people to promote young inner city youth in the late 70s, the early 80s. He was having conversations with them and would say, hey do you want to come on tour with me? He’d take someone from the hood and they’d see the world. They might stop gangbanging because they’d see that there is a ghetto everywhere and they could get out of their issues. He may have taken someone who had been incarcerated and given them an opportunity to perform.

Zulu Nation created a lot of opportunities for people who then became politicised and given a global perspective on things. They could see that even though the Bronx is fairly horrible, it’s also horrible in India, in South-East Asia, there are a lot of people who are illiterate who deal with the same circumstances as us in the Bronx but they can’t even read. It could be worse. We don’t have to deal with bombs going off like in the Gaza Strip. Zulu Nation was the first group to do this, it politicised a lot of people.

HHF: Thanks for your time today, you’ve been really generous. I’ll let you have the final words …

Chief69: I would love to give a shout out to A Tribe Called Quest, for Phife Dawg who recently passed away – who was a member of Zulu Nation – my heart and the hearts of hip-hop go out to him and his family and to everyone else we recently lost: Sean Price, for example. We appreciate these people even if they’re not appreciated by mainstream America, or mainstream music industry worldwide. My last shout out is if you’re not from America and you’re a hip-hop head, you’re still special. A lot of people from America think that they’re better than everyone else, just because they were born here but I think that there is talent all over the world and it should be embraced.

You can find Chief69’s Newest Mixtape Release Below





April Ma’lissia, Texas Poet, Writer, and Motivational Blogger, talks with HHF

Interviewed by Madeleine Byrne

Twenty-six year old poet/writer/ and motivational blogger, April Ma’lissia (Texas) is an internet phenomenon, clocking up thousands of views for her videos, with fans across the globe who appreciate her clever rhymes and determination to create art that will ‘uplift women’. 

Before the interview I asked her to nominate a hip-hop track, or artist that has inspired her style and overall creative approach. Her choice: Tupac’s ‘Keep ya head up’ …..

HHF: Why do you love that track so much?

AM: I like ‘Keep ya head up’ because I feel like Tupac was half psychic or something, like he saw what was about to come. Everything he said in that song I see now, like that part where he rhymes: ‘Be real to our women And if we don’t we’ll have a race of babies That will hate the ladies that make the babies …’ I feel like that’s what it is today.

Women, especially Black women are (pauses) I don’t want to say hated, it’s more disliked, not valued. The song really touches me, I relate to it and feel like Tupac was ahead of his time.

HHF: What do you think it was about Tupac that gave him such a different perspective?

AM: I feel like Tupac was a very open and diverse individual. He wasn’t one thing. A lot of artists today do one thing: if you’re a gangster rapper, you’re just a gangster rapper (Tupac wasn’t like that). Tupac was super way ahead of his time, that’s why I respect him so much.

HHF: Is there anything about the way that he rhymes that is inspirational for you?

AM: His passion. When Tupac delivers the message you can clearly hear it and it’s that passion I incorporate into my art, my poems; the passion. You can feel him. With his work, he can make you angry; he can make you sad. He can make you happy, you know. He was powerful; you can feel him with his words and I think that’s important for any type of art, for people to be able to feel you.

HHF: Now let’s talk about your work, can we start with your poem ‘Black woman …’

AM: Well, ‘Black woman’ is basically about the stereotypes that we fight against as black women. It’s like we have this stigma attached to us, we have to watch what we do so we don’t come off as ‘ghetto’, you know. We have to watch what we say; or how we wear our hair. There’s so much criticism. If we wear a weave, for instance, that’s not natural. But despite what a lot of people say about natural hair and embracing natural hair a lot of individuals really don’t like that (either).
It’s like a Black woman is in this maze and she’s trapped; so that’s what the poem is about.

HHF: Can you now choose part of the poem and talk about it more?

AM: Okay, let me think. ‘Lose the attitude, bitch, why the fuck are you so mean?/Miss can’t keep a man, food stamp Queen.’ At the beginning of the poem I’m coming at her, like the world is coming at her: ‘Lose the attitude, bitch. You got an attitude, why you so mean?’

Like the negative comments that people throw at black women I address that at the beginning of the poem because I want people to get enraged, to get offended by what I’m saying. I want them to feel it, because that is the pain we go through on a daily basis and a lot of times its from our brothers. People we look to, say things to hurt us.

HHF: Where do you think that racist stereotype of the ‘Angry Black woman’ in the US comes from?

AM: You know that’s society and the world we live in. People have got this idea that the US is based upon Christianity and in the Bible it speaks about how submissive the woman is supposed to be to her man, so we come from a Bible-based setting and the woman is supposed to be submissive, quiet and calm so when I speak up and get all passionate people mistake that as being angry.

Even the way I’m talking right now can intimidate somebody a lot. It makes them feel inferior like I’m too strong and a lot to handle, but that’s not the case. It’s all about society and what we were taught. The man is supposed to lead and the woman is supposed to follow so when I speak up, it often offends people and I don’t mean to offend anybody. I find myself apologizing a lot, saying I don’t mean to offend you.

HHF: Let’s talk about your work then in this context, you have lots of fans and supporters on Facebook, who do you think your audience is do you think?

AM: Women and a handful of men. And they’re from everywhere: I’ve got people in Europe, in the US, Canada, Africa – everywhere.

HHF: What kind of feedback to you get back from them, what do they like about your work?

AM: They say that I empower them, I inspire them to say the things that they’re afraid to say I say. I’m like a voice for women to speak their true feelings about everything, even the weak parts that we don’t like to admit.

HHF: That’s true you have a wonderfully strong, clear message about the need for women to love and respect themselves. Why do you think young women today aren’t as confident as they could or should be?

AM: They used to blame it on TV, but it’s all about social media now. If you look on social media what do you see, you see Kylie Jenner – she’s a beautiful woman, don’t get me wrong – and all these celebrities and they look perfect. In reality, even she doesn’t look like that.

We base our self-worth upon a picture and the amount of likes I get. If I get three likes as opposed to 300 that’s going to affect my self-esteem. So we’re basing our self-worth and our appearance and our beauty on pictures and likes and shares and it’s killing us. It’s killing the hell out of us, it’s hurting us.


HHF: Now let’s talk about how you work, how do you begin; what’s the process for you in terms of putting a poem together?

AM: There’s no specific way, I just think to myself like the way I’m talking to you right now, I just want to make a rhyme. A lot of time people don’t understand poets, I speak in their (my audience’s) lingo – I speak the language. It comes from my heart and it comes from reality. I’m not painting no pretty pictures, this is all reality.

HHF: Can you remember when you started writing poems?

AM: I was thirteen and in a classroom, the teacher was like we’re about to read this book and I want you all to tell me how you felt about the book in a creative way. And I said, okay, I’m going to make a rhyme, cause at the time. I used to listen to Jay-Z a lot and I was like I’m going to do it like Jay-Z do it, I’m going to tell my feelings but I’m going to make it rhyme.

HHF: What are your future plans, are you going to start publishing books as well?

AM: Definitely I’m going to start publishing, I’m working on a book right now – it’s a book about empowerment for young women and it’s going to appeal to young women and put a sense of hope into them and make them feel beautiful. I do the videos like a rapper, or an artist to put out videos or tracks to sell an album, I put out spoken-word videos to sell the book.

HHF: Just to finish can you talk about more of your poems, ‘Second chances’ and ‘The Butterfly affect’?

AM: ‘Second chances’ starts with ‘I’m tired of ignoring you, and I cant seem to get you off my mind/We done been through this too many times/I flip second chances, like it’s tax season/count it out like 3 4 and 5 and the thought of catching you on a 6th lie blows my high and I don’t know how to roll one so I ignore you soberly like “ahh nahh’

It’s basically what you go through in a relationship, I’ve given a man chance after chance after chance and I still can’t let go because I’m not a man-basher, a man is a good thing to have: a person who loves you and you love back is a good thing to have, so you go through these trials and tribulations and you have hope for the man that he could be for you at the end of the day.

It’s raw, it’s not about being all strong, I’m done with you, it’s about forgiveness and moving forward. You know we try to put on this front for our homegirls, yeah I’m done with him, but we texting him on the low asking when you going to come back home. That’s the reality and I think that’s why so many women relate to it.

As for the ‘Butterfly affect’ I came up with this title from the transition of the butterfly, it starts out as a caterpillar and then transforms into this beautiful butterfly. Basically that is a woman who starts out as a caterpillar, the lines are: ‘I read an article today, it said that plus size, is a size 8. Baffling to me but I read it was normally true in the fashion industry I should’ve registered it false but I cashed in for supplements that read fast weight loss.’

And she’s struggling with society, but in the end she has made up her ‘mind today I cannot leave Earth unmade so to the bully who seems to be never pleased with what he sees here’s what I have to say’ – at that point she is owning who she is and saying I’m going to be me and if you like it, or don’t doesn’t matter, I do.

HHF: What is the key message you want to give to the young women through your work?

AM: I would like young women to know, somebody can tell you that you’re beautiful all day long, but until you really get it in your head, in your soul, in your heart, until you do that, you’ll never understand just how beautiful you are.

I want to help you to do that. I feel like God created me to empower women: daughters, mothers, grandmothers; your sister, your cousin, that’s what I want so bad is for women to rise up and embrace who they are.

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CEO/Founder of First Family Productions, Terrell Johnson Interview

Written and Interviewed by: Madeleine Byrne

HHF: Let’s talk about your company, you’re the CEO of First Family productions, talk to me about what you’re trying to achieve.

TJ: The logic of the game is to turn artists into businesses. We do the things record companies don’t do any more – we teach stage presence and how to do interviews and how to perform. A lot of artists think that each time you record a song, it’s a hit, so we’re trying to teach artists different things to identify in music; we try to keep them relevant by making music about relevant situations that are going on in the world. We take the time to develop our artists; photo-shoots and brand management … We treat our artists like a product, you’ve got to maintain that product and when you hit that level it’s about distribution of that product to the world.

HHF: Just tell me about why you decided to set up the company, I mean why did you feel there was a need for it?

TJ: Well, I had the group AMN and we were travelling a lot, doing a lot of performances, we were meeting a lot of record labels. We’d meet with a label and they’d be like, yeah, we like the songs; we like the performances, you’re talented, but we don’t know what to do with you all. We’re not really sure how to market you guys – and this happened so many times. And I was thinking to myself, I don’t even know the name of the person I’m talking to, who are you? Who are you to tell me that you don’t know how to take my music to the next level? I don’t need you. So I figured, man, I could do this myself. I then decided to take my career into my own hands at that point.

HHF: This is one of the really interesting things in hip-hop at the moment, there’s a real movement towards artists representing themselves, setting up a collective ethos. Do you think this is something that’s happening more broadly across hip-hop now?

TJ: Yes, but I have way, way bigger goals for the company. Right now I just figure if I take the time to do the little things myself. I’ll be responsible for my career to the point where I’ll find guys to do something I can’t do. I’m not going to get someone to do something I can do myself. That doesn’t make any sense. The object of the game is that my kids’ kids’ kids’ kids’ have money so I have to cut out a lot of middlemen.

HHF: So you’ve got the guys associated with AMN with First Family, have you got any artists who are up and coming?

TJ: I’ve got a singer, a female singer called Mars – she’s very talented, she’s a great writer; we got her in the studio working. We’ve got other artists that we’re working with, who we haven’t officially added to the company. At this point I’ve got four, and I don’t see the need to add 50,000 artists; the whole point of the game is to take the time to develop. And working with four different personalities (laughs) is very time-consuming.


HHF: Are they all in Philadelphia, or where are they based?

TJ: Yes, everybody’s from Philadelphia. That was intentional, I intentionally work with people from my area.

HHF: Let’s talk about Philadelphia now, how would you describe the city in terms of its hip-hop scene?

TJ: We have a very strong underground scene in Philadelphia. Obviously we have a lot of great, great artists coming out of the city. We have strong musical roots in Philadelphia – anyone who knows anything about music knows this. Our underground scene is very active now, but it’s not the place you’d come to if you are looking for a record deal. If you’re looking for anything big, well we don’t have that kind of energy here.

I love this city for what it is, but (pauses)…

HHF: So you’re saying that if an artist in Philadelphia wants to move to the next level, get a record deal perhaps with a major, you have to leave the city, is that right?

TJ: We have a lot of artists that are like famous in the city, who’ve been famous 10-15 years and its like, how far do you want to go? How far do you want to take it? Anything you do you’ve got to broaden your horizons. You have to think bigger than your city, bigger than your neighborhood, bigger than your corner. (…)

HHF: How does it compare with another city, say for example Atlanta, in terms of the hip-hop scene?

TJ: I lived in Atlanta for a little while, and in Atlanta their energy is different. In Atlanta they give you chances. People will work with you; people will help you; people will partner you. The thing about Atlanta is that everybody is from somewhere and everybody moves to Atlanta for the greater good of the cause so people understand the basic concept of team-work.

HHF: Maybe we should say something positive about Philadelphia, though, because this is going to get published …

TJ: I love my city. I feel like my city is the best city in the world. I wouldn’t trade from being from nowhere else. I love it here. Its home to me. I love everything about it, it’s just that I understand that to do better, I have to move on. I love it here though; I love the way we dress, the love the way we talk … I love my city. I don’t think there is no city better in the world than mine. Thank you for what she’s given me so far, but it’s time to leave.

HHF: So you’re from Philadelphia, originally right? Tell me about the kinds of music you were listening to in terms of hip-hop when you were growing up?

TJ: My older brother is in his mid-30s, so growing up he played music like Method Man, Wu-Tang and music of that nature. My music though is 90s R&B, this is the music I play when I drive, when I’m at home, because it relaxes me. I’m not too big on listening to other hip-hop artists, honestly I might catch singles that come through the radio. But I always like to have my own thoughts, my own opinions and my own ways.

HHF: So what you listen to now and when you were younger is R&B, right?

TJ: Yes, I love it.

HHF: How do you think R&B has influenced your music; what’s the connection there?

TJ: It’s definitely influenced my music, but more than that it resources me; I use it to get away from my everyday life. I use it to get away from what’s going on in the streets. So when I get a chance to be alone; I listen to R*B music but it relaxes my soul. It keeps me in a better mind state. It helps me to be calm, when I’m with my son and when I’m with my girlfriend. It just calms me down as a person.

HHF: Let’s now think about AMN – Any Means Necessary – you’ve taken a name that seems to refer to one of the most famous maxims from Black American history, why did you choose that name?

TJ: Well, I was sitting around when I was younger and my friends were sitting around thinking of a name for the group. We were thinking, thinking and thinking; just talking. I just responded to something one of my friends said with, we’re going to succeed by any means necessary.

HHF: It’s a great name. Talk to me about your career with AMN.

TJ: We started the early 2000s, about ten years ago and it got to the point we had like 15 people in the group: we had singers, dancers, rappers … It was like a lifestyle, we made a thing out of it. Over the years, things changed – we lost members, left and right; the AMN now, well it’s my third time building the group.

HHF: Let’s talk about the AMN track ‘Famous’ when was it released?

TJ: February 2013, I believe.

HHF: You’ve said it was the story of everybody; can you talk more about that? What do you mean by that?

TJ: In the video, you can see Vino came home from the military and he had to go back to regular life, but it was hard for him. It was hard for him to find a job; he’s married with a kid, it was hard to find a job so he struggled financially for a while. Chris was in high school, I think he dropped out, you know he went from check to check, job to job thing, being homeless and having nowhere to stay, trying to get back and trying to figure out ways to survive. And me, well I was on the streets before I tried to do music so I ended up being in prison for a while. So coming home, we all decided – you know what, you’ve been through what you’ve been through, I’ve been what I’ve been through; how about we just take this and turn it into something positive. So the object of the video is that no matter what you go through, don’t forget there is always something to look forward. You do have direction.




HHF Interview- Philli Producer Harry Metz AKA Rolled Gold

Interviewed by Madeleine Byrne

Philadelphia’s Harry Metz aka Rolled Gold talks with Hip Hop Forum digital magazine about his just released Ep, Salty, that features a mighty line-up of local talent: Uncle Nate, Visto (ex the Bronx) Uncle Crimson, Rhetoric Wallace, Al Mighty (ex Camden NJ) Ai-Que, The Bul Bey and representing the Bronx, KO-P.


HHF: So the title ‘Salty’ what’s that about?

RG: I thought of it a long time ago when I first started making beats, I guess. It’s related to Rolled Gold as a pretzel company but also a slang word, so it ties everything together. The next project is going to be called ‘Extra Salty’ and the third one is going to be called ‘Extreme salty’ (laughs).

It’s a Philadelphia slang word, like ‘Ah he’s salty, he’s missed the bus.’ It’s also to do with food, you know snack food, maybe munchies. It has a meaning but it’s also kind of meaningless; just throw it out there, you know.

HHF: Talk to me about the overall mood of the ep – when listening to it I hear two distinct moods in the record – how would you describe it?

RG: You’ve got the hard, aggressive intro and the second song and then you’ve got tracks that are kind of cartoony, especially the tracks with Rhetoric Wallace, those tracks have that kind of weird, trippy cartoon vibe to them. I think it’s a good balance. I’m always about having a balance; if you do an ep you have a chilled track, a hype track, an old school track: it brings out a lot of colors in my mind.

HHF: It’s a very dynamic record, it’s really lively, especially at the start it’s got this energy to it, but for me it’s also got this Blaxploitation feel, an over the top sound. You know I did an interview with another Philly rapper, Crazie K!d AnonYmous and his music had a similar feel, do you think any of this connects with the city you come from?

RG: Yeah, for sure. Philadelphia like any major city has had its ups and downs; but definitely there’s that aggressive sound, especially these days and before this we had Beanie Sigel and Black Thought (The Roots) and they had that grimy edge to everything they do. But I also think it’s my job to show the opposite as well. We have the chill side, a jazzy side too; it’s a contrast in the city that goes throughout our history. Sixties Philly was very doo-wop Barbershop, singing on the corner, just like how Motown came about and then there’s that soft sweet sound. I love when you mix that with the hard, aggressive rap sound.

HHF: What you really hear is the ‘cartoony’ – to use your word – all those samples from 60s pop and TV, which made me think of Doom and then as you say the darker material as well. That track ‘Paisley on the drapes’ is a perfect example of the two elements working together. The pop elements, but the emcees’ delivery is straight, can you talk about that song?


RG: (laughs) Yeah. That was the first track we actually recorded. I had just met Uncle Crimson, Dante a few months before; I knew Rhetoric Wallace here and there throughout high school and from hanging out downtown. My plan was for the guys to come over, do something on the spot; let’s just make something by the end of the night.

Some of it was written previously and Dante literally, I’ve got these paisley drapes on my windows (laughs) just started going off; I was like, damn that’s actually kind of dope it doesn’t have to mean anything, but it could mean everything. By the end of the night we had everything recorded.

HHF: Could you also talk about they way you used 60s pop elements for contrast?

RG: Yeah, that one was like a lounge Hawaiian set I sampled. I love to take weird stuff like that, probably influenced by people like Madlib and Dilla and Doom, just way out there. I’d heard Rhetoric Wallace and Uncle Crimson rap before and I was like, I got to make the wackiest beat. That was the word I thought of, let me make something wacky and then Dante came over and he was like yes, this is the one. I just wanted to have that contrast of the boombap – the kick and the snare – and have this Hawaiian, tropical cartoon thing going on with it.

I like the way he’s not really describing, or talking about anything in particular but the energy comes through. But it also describes Philly, but it’s like you’re kind of walking around seeing crazy shit.

HHF: The other emcee on that track, Rhetoric Wallace, tell me about him?

RG: They both grew up on the same corner, in north Philly. Those dudes are pretty out there. Rhetoric Wallace has been getting a lot of press lately. He did some work with Ohbliv, a producer from the South and he’s got a big Soundcloud following. I think he’s going to be at the next South by Southwest.

HHF: You could say maybe that your ‘signature style’ is found in the track, ‘The Speakeasy’ (featuring Ai-Que, Visto, The Bul Bey) very musical, expressive, with a party feel, do you think that this style of production is something you’ve become known for?

RG: Yeah, but I’m definitely expanding from that, I think it was necessary to start there, so now people say, ‘Harry, he’s always got the soulful samples, the jazz samples’ and then they want to work with me for that. It can bring in old heads who listen to jazz and soul and they’ll listen to some hip-hop though they normally wouldn’t, which is one of the things that I like best about sampling, honestly.

You’ve got old heads who don’t like the aggressiveness of rap, or they don’t think it’s real music it’s just somebody talking. But if that old head listens to soul from the 60s or jazz and I play them a piece they might like it, they might like the way I’ve reworked one of their favorites from back then. On the other hand, you’ve got young kids who listen to radio rap, or hip-hop and they don’t like the old music, they think it’s nerdy and stupid and old. But if I play them a song that Kanye or Jay-Z sampled, they’re like yeah I do like this, cause I get reference of from the music I like.

It’s a tool to bring old and young together and reminding people to step outside the box every once in a while, not everything (you like) needs to be what you listen to everyday.

HHF: Let’s think now about this moment in hip-hop production because I think it’s a really interesting time with producers becoming stars in many respects; now there are lots of underground producers making names for themselves. How would you describe the current time in terms of hip-hop production?

RG: I think a lot of things are coming to light more; people are realising that they like the song because of the beat and not so much because of the lyrics and that’s okay. That creates a vibe. People are paying more homage to producers and producers are realising that they don’t need to be behind the scenes and organising their own careers in the way they want.

HHF: What do you think the role of the producer is?

RG: Well, a lot of people think, I make beats so I’m a producer but that’s not exactly the case. There’s a big difference between someone rapping on a track and turning it into a clear, illustrative actual song.

Rolled Gold, Ali, Henry

HHF: Are you putting out the beats generally, or approaching people individually?

RG: A little bit of both; I send beats to people, but now what I’m doing with my most recent project with singers is having them come over, talk a little bit and then develop a song together: that’s starting from scratch without samples. It’s a pretty, natural organic process.

HHF: Speaking more generally now, we’ve talked about producers gaining more prominence, do you think that there is a particular sound now in the underground hip-hop scene?

RG: In underground hip-hop I think it’s always the same thing that has interested people since the 90s, a lot of people are getting into straight samples these days: the way Madlib and Dilla did back in the day, not adding stuff, just letting the sample be and that’s great.

HHF: In the future though you’re going to be moving towards a mix of sampling and live instrumentation is that right?

RG: Yeah, I am a drummer, first and foremost; so I’ve got drum-breaks that I’ve recorded so now I’ve uploaded them up. I want to keep it separate: I do a sample one day, and then the live instrumentation the next day – bass, keyboards, guitars, trumpets, flutes, singers. And then if I want to use samples, I can sample my own material as well.

It also goes for other people, I want other people to sample my material. Basically I want to be a Philly version of Adrian Younge, but also playing the drums. This is a long-term goal; to be a composer and a conductor, obviously it’s going to take a bit of money.

HHF: Just to finish you told me that you were a huge fan of Mingus, why is he so important for your work?

RG: He’s an enigma. I read his memoir three or four times, his music has the contrast: he can do straightforward jazz, but also do something so far-out and trippy that you don’t understand what’s going on. Overall his energy is honest; it’s passionate, it’s outside the box. No other jazz artist sounded like him. He wasn’t as far out as Sun Ra maybe. But what I like best about him is how my favorite songs of his paint these amazing pictures and take me on a journey.



Misterelle – Part 3

Interviewed by Madeleine Byrne
In the final part of our interview, Misterelle talks about ‘Yez Lawd’ (from the 2013 Friday FUNclub mixtape) and ‘Bad Hair Day’ from his most recent release, the Repast at 610 ep and how both tracks express something about how it feels to be Black in the US today.

HHF: I want to talk now about this track ‘Yez Lawd’ it’s got soul elements in it, but it’s more deconstructed, it’s lighter in a way. The lyrics are kind of funny.

M: That’s one of favorite songs too and it’s funny you included that song because that’s pretty much about, just saying when you’re Black in America, you’ve got enough religion as it is without people trying to convert you to something. I was speaking about r&b singers, working a job, being poor, I was talking about all this stuff that plague the Black community. Sometimes the last thing I want is for somebody to come up to me and say, hey do you know the Lord Savior, Jesus Christ.

But I took the humorous route because the content is so heavyweight, it would lose the average listener if it were too heavy, they’d say this shit is gonna make me cry. I don’t want to make people feel depressed. I like to be a little humorous and show people that we’re not sitting in a melancholic state all the time. We are just coping, it’s a coping mechanism. We’ve found a way to laugh at our problems. (…)

HHF: It’s a survival thing, isn’t it?

M: Right, right.

HHF: And I thought what was interesting about that track is the use of contrast; I mean the sample at the beginning sounds like a Spiritual ….

M: Mike McGraw made that beat, aka Krooked Smilez, he’s from Chester, Virginia. He made that and when I heard it I thought spirituality and religion and then it made me try and channel everything I understand about being Black. I said a line, this is the line that makes people go crazy at shows, when I say: Seems all we do is fantasize about the pretty singers / got black people hollering how we miss Aaliyah / got Spanish people hollering how they miss Selena / TLC is only TC, they’re missing Lisa /

When you’re Black and you’re in the neighborhoods, your concerns are on these things, while the whole world is designed to keep you down, you’re thinking, Damn Aaliyah has just died. And that sums up being Black in America. There’s another line where I say, celebrating Independence Day, who’s independence? / I swear that of this was the 1800s / and white boys saw them white girls with us they would’ve hung us /

HHF: I don’t want to sound too abstract, but it’s all about contrast. You’re doing this rap about acting like a tough guy and all this bravado and then you’ve got the other elements, the soul element which is quite mournful and then you’ve got the spiritual and then every now and then these barbed comments. It’s very layered. As a listener, you’re not laughing from beginning to end if you know what I mean.

M: Yeah, that makes sense. It’s funny you bring up the bravado because the bravado is a defence mechanism. If someone challenges your manhood, or getting approached or being approached and they’re trying to see where you at as a man, or whatever. You are going to respond with nothing but, I’m going to break you up proper. Then in these environments you are forced into these situations – this is how they get their point across. (…)

HHF: It’s a constant thing in hip-hop, this is a bit simplistic so forgive me for this as well, but you know hip-hop is a way out of that as well, it’s also a way of avoiding physical violence you know. It’s something you hear all the time, these guys doing the tough guy thing, but they’re just talking.

M: Right, cause nobody wants confrontation … I’m not a tough guy. I’m not a gangster or anything like that. The funny thing about it is that this is normal. This is typical. You don’t have to be a gangster to get shot. Where I’m from, you could have stayed away from gangs, drugs, stealing cars and still get killed for no reason.

HHF: Isn’t that in ‘Bad Hair Day’ you talk about this?

M: Right. ‘Bad Hair Day’ is pretty much this is a normal day. This is normal.

HHF: In ‘Bad Hair Day’ there are these lines ‘Richmond is a battlefield’ and then you’ve got something about ‘daffodils’ and a ‘Happy Meal’. I like the way you’ve contrasted ‘daffodils’ which are something sweet and a ‘Happy Meal’ which is something disposable, is this something you’re trying to do with your lyrics to offer these contrasts, to keep it fresh?

M: If you look at ‘Bad Hair Day’ that symbolizes Richmond in a nutshell. The first verse I’m talking about being a predator, I’m with the people preying on ‘the weak’… I’m with them, so I’m not going to say, ‘Let’s not prey on the weak, let’s not do that’ because they’re going to be like, ‘Mistuh, you acting like a pussy, and you can get fucked up too.’

You can’t deflect it when you live in it. If you don’t live in it, it’s easy to avoid. If somebody is trying to run down on you in your neighborhood where your mama live, and you live there, what are you going to do?
They are going to be like, ‘Hey cuz, where you from?’
‘Shit.’ The first thing you say to yourself is like, ‘Man, I’m just trying to go to the store, man.’
They like, ‘Fuck all that. You ain’t from round here, bruh.’ That’s the norm… That’s what’s happening right now, this is what’s been happening since I’ve been alive… That’s Richmond.

A lot of people compare this to Kendrick’s, MAAD city and you know what’s funny… what Kendrick showed me on MAAD city was that every neighborhood is the same, cause I was like, we’re going through that, minus the gangbanging. People gangbang in Richmond, but they migrate from other places.

In ‘Bad Hair Day’ I’m speaking mostly in the past tense of things that I’ve endured and narrate it in a way that people can relate, so I say things like I’m running cause I got jumped in the projects. And I’m running cause they’re chasing me home and I’m like jumping fences and heart racing and I’m just saying that’s how it is here, that’s how normal it is. I can speak about it and make sense to someone who never went through it. They’re like, that’s understandable if the whole projects were chasing me, I’d run too.

HHF: (laughs) Of course. In another context you talked about things that people are ‘subjected to’. I thought that was an interesting turn of phrase, I mean I haven’t lived it so don’t want to say anything patronising here, but it’s not about choices, it’s about being conditioned by the environment, would you say? You’re being shaped by the world you’re living in, is that correct?

M: Right. I mean I was. But as an adult it is your choice. When you’re a kid you have no choice in the matter. When you’re a child you can’t help where you born at, you can’t help who your family is, you can’t help that stuff. That ain’t under your control, you’re just here. You’re six years old and you in the neighborhood where people are getting shot every day. You can’t do nothing about it. You can’t get a job and move out.

But when you’re an adult, you have the choice and as an adult, I had the choice and I said, look, I ain’t with this no more. I’m going to make my move. So that’s where my new project that I’m working on now is like. It’s more about how I feel today.

When I made all that I was trying to show the youth, the generation after me that you can come from this and still do something. I come from the shit, all that Chief Keef stuff… that was like the after school special for me. He is not scary at all to me. I can’t wait to meet him (laughs). Because I get it, I get why he’s doing that.

What I’m saying is, look here young’n, you can come from this. I come from this, but you can do something productive in society. I’m doing it now… I’m making music, I’m making people want to interview me. I’m a regular person trying not to die (laughs). That’s all. I’m just going to keep making music and try not to get shot at; that’s all I’m going to do.



Misterelle – Part 2 Hip Hop Forum Interview

misterelle3Interviewed by Madeleine Byrne

In this second part of the interview with HHF, Misterelle talks about his track, (‘Set’) how he feels about coming from Richmond VA, and how he takes inspiration from all kinds of musical sources …

HHF: Let’s talk about the track ‘Set’ because that’s completely different, right?

M: Right, a whole new other feel. It’s a little newer, a little more up-tempo if you will, but it slows down, more on a southern way of doing things, cause Virginia is a southern state and where we from, we like things slow. We like things that knock out of cars, stuff like that and again, the things I’m speaking about in ‘Are World’ actually translate to ‘Set’ because the same place I was talking about on this (laughs).

I was from 610 Ratcliffe Avenue. I could dive into the whole where it is and all that but it won’t really equate to the value of the song itself. It’s all about (pause) what I’m embodying, setting the scene. Cause now I’m saying I’m over that part of it: the melancholy of being from this place, now I’m accepting it and embracing it. So with ‘Set’ it’s like I’m trying to come up, so I’m talking about working a job and saying I did that (in the past), but I’m like I got to come up and get to a place where I can put people on to where I’m from.

The production is by Manu Mainetti – he’s from the UK from Huddersfield. When I heard the beat, I was like he’s embodying where I’m from cause that’s the sort of sound you’re going to hear if ever you come to Richmond. I’m talking about songs of that calibre, that heavy bass-driven stuff, banging out of cars: with the rims rattling. That’s what you’re going hear, you’re going to see old school cars, like Lincoln Continentals, Cadillacs and they’re going to be sitting on 20s and they’re going be playing shit like that (laughs).

HHF: What kind of hip-hop artists have this sound, though? Cause ‘Set’ sounds different to me.

M: That track is different, cause the sound is different because I’m different. I like the drums that come from quote/unquote ‘trap’ music, I like the drums and I like the cadences. I don’t necessarily like the melodies or the things they’ve used, but (if combine my sound) with trap music element, it actually makes a beautiful struggle.

HHF: What jumped out at me when I heard ‘Set’ is that I thought it had psychedelic sound, the kind of psychedelic hip-hop I associate with Cypress Hill. I don’t know if there’s any connection for you, but my interpretation of the song is that it’s about smoking dope and getting high.

M: Yeah, I love psychedelic music for real, you know stuff like I’m a huge fan of Jim Morrison and the Doors and Jefferson Airplane.

HHF: So Cypress Hill, is there any link there with ‘Set’?

M: Cypress Hill, right. I’m a huge fan of ‘How I can just kill a man’ and I like ‘I’m going to get hiiiigh’ (sings)’ boom boom. It’s like ‘Black Sunday’ it’s like the sound. But it’s more so of just embodying the theme of my music and what comes with it, cause psychedelia is like, sometimes we really are just trying not to die.

And it’s the stress from working hard to be broke. You work all day to be broke. And then you’re trying to dodge a bullet and you’re trying to dodge people selling crack and all that stuff, so sometimes you smoke a little weed; it makes you forget about it for an hour or two. It takes the edge off sometimes because you’re constantly fighting to stay alive.

(When we were younger) we used to smoke weed to escape this, really trying to calm down all these riots in our minds and in our hearts.

HHF: Living with a constant fear of violence, it would make you kind of nuts and this comes through in your music is, at 1’21 there is this amazing sample of this noise, you know. It just kind of like erupts in the song.

M: Right

HHF: And it’s very, very strange, but interesting. I think that the whole psychedelia thing, sure it’s about drugs, but it’s also about music that doesn’t have limits, does that make sense?

M: Right, cause it’s actually like a lyrical perspective on trap music. This is what trap would sound like if trap could articulate it like this.

HHF: When you say trap music, what kind of artists are you talking about?

M: Trap music, I’m talking about artists that are mainly about their struggles of being a dope dealer.

HHF: What you’re thinking about here then is the modern-version of West Coast gangster rap?

M: Yeah, right. What they call trap music is really gangster rap and gangster rap is really reality rap. You remember MC Breathe? And Scarface, Geto Boys it’s the same thing, it’s just a different sound, it’s the same thing. That’s why I don’t look down upon on it. We from the same place they from (…)

If you look at songs like ‘Set’ it’s all about pride, the pride of coming up and feeling like, ‘I’m set now. I’m set’ which is like ‘I’m conscious’.

HHF: I was wondering about that title, cause I was thinking it could be ‘Set’ in as I’m ready … or is it as you say, ‘I’m conscious’?

M: Right. It’s a title that’s so subjective, it can mean whatever you want it to mean, like if you work in a job, if you work at McDonalds and you get paid on Friday, you’re going to be like, ‘I’m set’ or if you sell drugs, ‘I’m set. I’m on the set.’ It can be perceived the way the listener wants to perceive it.

HHF: Maybe we can now focus more on Richmond, there’s a quote from your website which reads:

‘To a kid Richmond could be as vast as the entire universe at the same time as minuscule as ants on the ground’

How would you describe your relationship with your city?

M: My relationship with my city is a love-hate, but not really hate cause I don’t hate. Imagine you in a relationship with the best person you could be in a relationship with, but they’re addicted to drugs. It’s like the best you can be and the worst you can be.

That’s my relationship with my city, I love where I’m from because it made me the man I am, but it’s more so about the people who are there. I love the people. I make music to represent these people, more than myself. I was born and raised in Richmond, I’ve never lived anywhere else. I’m still here.

And it’s at some point we were proud of Richmond and other times we weren’t so proud: the murder rate was number one like in the 2000s, in the mid-2000s. Nobody talked about it. (…) Somebody like myself, well, I’ve been here the whole time, watching everything and absorbing everything, so I think a win for me, will be a win for the city – because I am of the city.

Richmond is such a beautiful place and so historical, if you look at the revolutionary war: everything that shaped the nation, everything you learn in your history class about war and slavery; all that it started in Richmond.

You can come here and see historical sites from wars that happened and shaped this nation. Richmond is a great place, a beautiful place: I love it, everybody loves it, but the crime could be less. That’s anywhere though. If you look at how Kendrick talk about Compton, or how J. Cole talk about Fayetteville, you know what I’m saying.

There’s a lot of work that need to be done in Richmond to make sure that the generation after us don’t go through the same thing we had to go through.

HHF: Is it like Detroit a city that became poor after industry moved out, are there reasons why it became such a high-crime city, is it about poverty?

M: Yeah, poverty-stricken. Most people live below the poverty-line, even those people with jobs. You can have a job and still be poor. In Richmond, my mama worked her whole life. We was poor for the first 17 years of my life. She worked ever since I was born. My mama got three jobs just so we could have hot water, food, you know what I’m saying. You look at your mama every day going out to work with a uniform on and you go like, man, all day. She ain’t got no time. I didn’t grow up in a home, where you’re like, ‘I love you mom, give her a hug and a kiss’ and I didn’t grow up like that. My mama had to go to work all the time.

She was like, ‘Did you do your chores, did you do your homework? I’m going to work.’ Come back, ‘you did this, did you clean the house? Ok, I’m going to work.’

HHF: This leads to the next thing I wanted to ask you about, which is how your mom’s musical taste influenced you. You say one of her favorite singers is also one of your favorites, is it Milira Jones?

M: Milira Jones was a jazz singer she was signed to the Apollo label; Apollo in Harlem and she was signed to it, she was a jazz singer and her music is what neo-soul is now… She had a very soulful sound, it shaped my ear for the sound. If you do the research on her, she’s got this song, go outside in the rain, and the ecology which is a rendition of a Marvin Gaye song. You will kind of understand me a little bit if you listen to this music.

My mom wanted to keep me pure and uncorrupted. The difference was my dad, for the most part listened to rap and everybody getting shot in it. So I’m a good balance, I like to think a balance between a beautiful sound and you know… rough stuff.

HHF: You have said my music is ‘where soul r&b and hardcore hip-hop collides …’ That’s a great quote, is this something you still think is true?

M: Right, right, exactly. I don’t want to limit myself to being a rapper, because I understand musicality; I understand tones and harmonies, that is the reason why I like musicians like Prince. Nobody would think I love Prince’s music; nobody would think I listen to Smashing Pumpkins (laughs).

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Supastition 02Interviewed by Madeleine Byrne
Edited extract from an extended interview with the North Carolina emcee, to read the entire article go to www.madeleinebyrne.com

MB: With Gold Standard (Reform School Music/World Expo Records), it’s got various producers on it, but what really struck me was that it had a very confident sound; a very distinctive record compared maybe to some of your earlier releases; were you aiming to get a particular mood?

S: I’ve done a lot of releases and I really feel that with Gold Standard, well, it’s the one I can kind of boast and be proud of – for a lot of years, a lot of things weren’t working out the way I wanted them to, but with Gold Standard it is one of those records where everything came together. I had a plan to do a tour, of 70 plus shows and I started working with a producer by the name of Praise, so I had the fire under me.

MB: It’s really interesting you used the word confident, because the words I wrote down (when listening to it) were ‘straight, confident, consistent (and) unified’ – maybe compared to some of your other records. Were you inspired by any other particular hip-hop album when you were putting it together?

S: When I was putting it together, I was listening to a lot of albums that really strike me as inspirational like Little Brother’s The Listening; Blu and Exile’s Below the Heavens and the Brother Ali/Jake One record Mourning in America, Dreaming in Colour. One thing I like about them is that they all have a consistent vibe from beginning to end. I think out of my albums that fans like, like The Deadline it has a similar vibe, even though I’m working with different producers, I want a cohesive sound.

MB: I think it’s interesting you referred to The Deadline because that’s probably the other record that I’d compare Gold Standard to, where, you know the first track is completely, you know ‘I’m here; I’m ready to be heard’ that kind of thing.Supastition - IMG 19 by Methuzulah

You’ve talked about your interest in ‘concept albums’ before, would you say this is a concept album and if it is, in what way?

S: Yes, it’s a loose concept album, I wouldn’t say it’s a concept album in the sense in all songs pertaining to one particular subject, but for this record it is – Gold Standard just the title is saying that there are a lot of people in the music industry that basically brag and boast about a lot of things, but they have nothing to back it. With this record, I’m saying I’ve been here professionally since 2002 and after ten plus years in the industry I feel confident that speak about what I see. That’s why you have songs like ‘Gold Standard’ and ‘Know my Worth’. The concept behind it is, just be confident and proud of who you are. I’m not a twenty year old rapper any more, I’m confident and cool being a married man, a great father, a great friend and a dope rapper.

MB: (laughs) ok, and I think the track ‘Unorthodox’ wouldn’t you say it’s playing into this theme of providing a statement of who you are and what your history is, would you say that’s the key track for that?

S: Exactly, I definitely think ‘Unorthodox’ is a great example of that. ‘Unorthodox’ is one of those records where I say, critically I didn’t always the acclaim, you know when I release an album I already know they’re going to give this album a 3.5, because I really don’t have the name to get classic album rating, I don’t have promo behind me, but on that track I’m saying I don’t care if the critics understand me or not. I’m making records for the fans, you know.

MB: I understand that, but it does seem that things are shifting – Dr Dre has included you in his radio show, is that right?

S: Yes, he has a radio show that he does online where he plays different music and some people from Aftermath pick out the sound and the songs they play, so having Dr Dre include it and hearing that some of the people at Aftermath are big fans of the Gold Standard record, having people like Dr Dre and DJ Premier and Da Beatminerz supporting the record, it just makes you feel really, really confident and appreciated, you know. (..)

MB: The track that they played was ‘Know my Worth‘ right …

S: Right, ‘Know my Worth’

MB: This is a gorgeous track, isn’t it? You’re working with a female emcee, Boog Brown

S: Yes, that’s my home-girl, Boog Brown…

MB: She’s fantastic, I thought what she added to that track was not so much the lyrics, but the way she raps, is just phenomenal, isn’t it? Can you talk a little bit about her?

S: Boog Brown is a very, very dope emcee. She’s originally from Detroit, but she lives in Atlanta now. We’ve known each other for a while, I was a big supporter of her, early in her career, I just thought she was an incredible emcee – not just a female emcee, but an incredible emcee and I always tried to put people onto her music. (…)

MB: Okay, let’s go to the first track from the record that I heard, ‘Black Bodies’ … You’re originally from North Carolina, Greenville, is that correct?

S: Yes

MB: So as you know, there has been some horrific race-based violence both the police and a white supremacist in North and South Carolina recently, how do you personally feel when you see these kinds of things happening so close to where you come from?

S: The thing with me is it’s not anything new, cause growing up in the South, growing up in North Carolina, I remember in Greenville, North Carolina you used to see the Ku Klux Klan march through town, you know things like that. I was in school and white people would call me nigger, it’s just what you would see growing up, you’d go to a store in a small town and people wouldn’t want to serve us, or want us in the store; or we’d walk into a restaurant and everybody would look at us like we were crazy. (…)

So when I created ‘Black Bodies’ you know, I didn’t want to create a song because everybody else was doing a song, particularly I held my back and waited because I wanted things to die down and as we decided to release the song I realized it was always going to be relevant because these situations keep happening. There’s always an unarmed black person getting killed somewhere around the world. (…) You can go a lot deeper – look at the history of America, the judicial system, systematic oppression, it goes through a lot of different things.

MB: I definitely agree. But let’s slow it down a bit here, because what you said was really quite shocking before, you’re not so old, so when you’re talking about the Ku Klux Klan and the racism you experienced growing up, are we talking the 70s or the 80s, or?

S: This is the 80s – the mid to late 80s.


S: Once you look back, when you’re older and understand it, it amazes you. I can’t believe I witnessed and lived through all this stuff was still going on at that time. A lot of people think it ended in the 60s and the 70s, but all this goes a lot deeper than that.

“MB: The thing that is very interesting for me is your choice of the title ‘Black Bodies’ because it’s maybe the media, certainly the police and people in authority often see people of color as just being bodies, rather than being human. When you were thinking about that title, what ideas did you have when you chose that title for the track?

S: The inspiration is just like you said it’s the way people don’t see African-Americans as being people, a lot of times (white) Americans treat dogs and animals better than they treat African-Americans, they have more compassion for animals than us. And it’s something that I’ve noticed when you look the news and you see people dying in America they don’t show dead bodies laying on the ground, when they show countries in Europe and places like that they don’t show bodies on the ground, but when they show African nations and people dying and starving they show actual dead bodies, the people, it’s almost as if they are desensitized. This is one of the reasons why I wanted to call that track ‘Black Bodies’ because when you notice this, if you look at it a lot of times they have massacres in Africa, you’ll see it on the news, the bodies laying there. It’s like they’re being treated as if they’re less than human sometimes. They would never show – any massacre that happens in America, they never show dead bodies laying on the ground.”

S: I just wish people would have more compassion and like I said in the song, ‘Black Bodies’ these police officers, they not held to the same standard as the average guy, I mean people talk about black on black crime, when someone gets killed in the neighborhood, but these guys (the police) are not held to the same standard – they hold a position of service and so when we see this happen, it’s a big disappointment, I mean we think you’re supposed to be there to protect us, if we can’t trust you, who can we trust?

To read the full interview with Supastition, go to www.madeleinebyrne.com


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Hip Hop Forum Interview: Misterelle Part 1

misterelle2Interviewed by Madeleine Byrne

In the first of a three-part interview, talented Virginia MC Misterelle looks back on tracks in his catalogue. First up, ‘Are World’ (produced by Antagonist Dragonspit, and released back in 2013 on Misterelle’s Friday FUNclub mixtape).

‘Are World’ boosted Misterelle’s profile, while also garnering support from major industry players, such as All Def Digital (Russell Simmons’s multimedia company) and was included in Snoop Dogg’s Underground Heat, ultimately reaching the top ten.

Misterelle starts out by talking about the song’s unusual title ….

HHF: Let’s begin with the track name, ‘Are World’ it comes from your niece, right ..

M: Yeah, Jaqayla

HHF: What’s the significance of that title for you?

M: My niece, Jaqayla, she makes me a lot of artwork and stuff like this, when she was living with me. She is very smart and at that time she was like in third grade or something like that. She made me a poem called ‘Are World’ – spelled ‘A- R- E’ and in this poem she spoke about different animals in the world and plant life, she summed it up pretty nice. I thought it was very intricate. I was like, why are you spelling it like that and she was like I did it like that cause it looks pretty on paper, I guess. I was like, it does look better than ‘our world’. And then I was like, I’m going to make a song and I did the same thing she did in the poem, but I talked about my life and my world.

HHF: What you could say about the title is like, ‘Our world’ it belongs to us, we possess or own this world, but with ‘Are world’ it’s like the world is us. Does that make sense?

M: Right

HHF: Can you talk me through the lyrics, especially the second verse where it gets all broken up. That part of the track, the second verse, really impressed me when I heard it.

M: The first verse is how I was taught to believe the world is, by the OGs who brought me up. The first verse is me trying to project this way of living and then the second verse was more how I feel about those same things now. The first verse is how I was raised, and its 100 % factual. People don’t understand that in Richmond, my life was average… considering where I’m from – I’m from the North side of Richmond, Virginia. It was typical to grow up and be raised by people who have been in prison for ten years and then got out, and they raising you and we didn’t think it was anything different.

HHF: Is it kind of strange they’re people you respect and have relationships with, but also you know there’s this other world that they’re part of? Growing up in that environment do you have this kind of split going on all the time?

M: (pauses) It’s weird, like even now as an adult, you still can’t escape it really. You can kind of lay low and then hope that it don’t find you, but it never goes away. With the verses, it’s both sides of the coin: the first side is I’m with it, I don’t care what happen; police catch me, fuck it. The second verse is like, no… I don’t want to do that, it’s those contradictory things we all go through.

Television was the closest I got to the other side of the tracks, so the second verse I integrated a lot of things, like video games, M. Bison from Streetfighter and a lot of stuff everything we can relate to. In the first verse, not everybody can relate to this brute way of living; but the second verse I’m saying I was exposed to the same forms of entertainment on television and in fashion (as everybody else)like everybody wore Air force Ones and Jordans. But at the same time we were wearing Air force Ones and running from the police.

That’s the difference, we share the same things, but not the same experiences. It was like in the second verse I wanted to go more introspective. The first verse is exterior, this is what it looks like when you’re looking at it, like I’m not going anywhere near that but when you meet the person, which is me, you’re like, he’s not a rowdy person, he’s actually kind of together.

HHF: What I like about it is the way you’ve done it: the first verse is very factual – you’ve got ages, statements, it’s very straight and then in the second verse is much more psychological and complex. Also the sound of the sound of the production in the second verse is quite amazing It’s got this whole series of samples that come in, so what you’ve got there is an increased complexity, which is quite beautiful.

M: Right

HHF: What were you trying to achieve in terms of the sound?

M: I wanted it to sound very theatrical.

HHF: Okay

M: Cause Antagonist (producer Antagonist Dragonspit) and I never actually met in person, but we talked on the phone and talked about the state of hip-hop. He practically gave me the beat in good faith, like I can’t wait to hear what you do and when I sent it to him he was like, yeah pretty much what I thought you’d do …

People were really competing for the beat and I was like, no, you need to hand that over to me because I’m going to embody something with that. I’m not going just freestyle and all that I’m going to try and do something real with it, you know what I’m saying. He was like, you got it.

The sound quality, when you put the music to the lyrics and everything coincides, it’s basically like I just wanted to tell the narrative based on how the music sounds. The transition makes it heighten and then it comes down and then it climaxes again, it’s just like writing a musical score.

HHF: Totally. And there’s an amazing bass-line, I’m not sure if it’s a pure bass-line sample, or if he’s modified or changed the sound of it but it’s just extraordinary.

M: It is.

HHF: When you used that word theatrical, would it be appropriate then to think about it as if it were scenes in a play or something like this?

M: Like I can do it on Broadway or something and it’d make sense; cause the way I like to write I like to write from the memories burned in the back of my mind, the things that I remember most vividly. Most people like to write from a place that’s like, I’m going to get the ‘oohs and the ahhs’ and people are like, oh wow. I used to do that, that’s where I come from, you can hear traces of my ‘cleverness’ but at times I got to tell a narrative.

I didn’t want to do nothing fabricated. I wanted to make sure that people understood that this is my world, this is the world as I know it, the Richmond; for people from Richmond, Virginia this is what we are used to. Another person would look at it and go, ‘that’s horrific; that you were around machine-guns and all that stuff and we’re like, no it ain’t … That’s life.

It’s always kind of weird when cultures come together and we see you how other people live. They’re like I can’t imagine growing up like that, and we look at other people and we’re like I can’t imagine growing up like that (laughs).

What brings us together is the music and that’s why the music is important because when you tell that narrative and you do it from a true place, then somebody that has no way of knowing how this is like, they’re going to get walk-through that life as well and they’re like, okay if I was him, I probably would have felt the same.


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