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.
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.