Tag Archives: hip-hop

AltWire Indie Artist of the Week – The Town’s own GQ

This weeks featured Indie artist is Oakland raised emcee GQ.

GQ comes with enough bars to argue his place as one of the West Coast’s top rising stars. GQ is signed to 9th Wonder’s Jamla Records giving him access to production on par with the verses he spits. Expect an honest perspective of a young Black man growing up in a bleak environment. Take this journey with GQ as he rises above what is a trap to outsides.

He is three releases in with his most recent E 14th, which dropped on November 17. Be sure to stream and purchase his release on all platforms. Check out the first single released entitled “Can’t Run”.

AltWire Editorial: The Curious Case of Hip-Hop

Is a Generation Gap to Blame?

Boom Bap.

Trap.

Lo-Fi.

Mob Music.

Although there are dozens of different styles of Hip-Hop, few outside of the Hip-Hop culture wouldn’t know it. It’s all “Rap Music” to them. Whatever style of is currently trending at the moment becomes the definition of Hip-Hop for the world. 

That makes a lot of Hip-Hop artists angry.  But…

Boom-Bap was a product of Evolution itself

I LOVE Boom-Bap. I grew up on it from the late 80’s and especially the 90’s. Boom-Bap was a product of evolution itself. I remember the samples of early hip-hop before the SP-1200’s and MPC 60’s took over. Hip-Hop was a lot more funkadelic to me then. Boom-Bap was a lot sexier. My first true experience with Boom-Bap was MC Shan’s “The Bridge” produced by Marley Marl. I was a shorty then. But, the way that kick and snare dominated the rhythm over MC Shan spittin made me want to put my voice on wax. 

Later on in my teen years, it was Nas’ Illmatic that put the nail in the coffin for me. I had a love affair with not only Hip-Hop, but the production behind it. Boom-Bap production made me wanna go crazy on the lyrical tip. Spittin’ bars full of vocabulary, similes, and metaphors was what it was all about for me back then. The day’s of Grandmaster Flash, U.T.F.O., and Kool Moe Dee seemed like eons ago, even though only 10 years had passed. 

Hip-Hop had entered one of the most important, and critical stages of its evolution. However, just like the various eras of Earth’s history, there was more to come. 

Although, none was as defined as Boom-Bap, or as most heads know it as: Real Hip-Hop.

Every Generation’s Music is a Reflection of Who They Are

I think the main point most of us older heads are missing is, today’s Hip-Hop is not about OUR struggle. Today’s popular Hip-Hop is so hard for us to understand because every generation’s music is a reflection of who they are. The 60’s was peace, love, unity, and Civil Rights. Hence, you had the birth of soul ballads, as well as militants like The Last Poets and Gil Scott Heron. In order to be a Hip-Hop artist in the late 80’s and 90’s, you had to be lyrical. Yeah, sure there were a couple of artists who slipped through the cracks and found stardom. But, for the most part, nobody was trying to hear you unless you actually had BARS. That’s not taking anything away from today’s popular artists, because they are great in their own way. 

We came up in the Crack Era which to be honest, was a devastating and troubling time for Urban communities. Most of us can’t count how many people we know who were victims of drug addiction and violence in the 90’s. We can’t count how many funerals we went to. 

Some of us were victims ourselves. 

Hip-Hop was the only outlet and dream for a lot of us trying to avoid being trapped behind those walls. It still is today. We talked about the things that we saw, heard, and experienced because Hip-Hop gave us the voice to do that. 

But…

I remember a lot of the older cats in the 90’s who had come up during the Soul and Funk days, the Temptations and O’Jays days, who used to say the exact same thing about our music that we say about today’s Hip-Hop:

“That’s not REAL music.”

“All that ain’t nothin’ but a bunch of noise!”

Hell, I remember a time, at least in Chicagoland, when you didn’t hear rap at all until Saturday nights from 10pm to 12 am when Ramonski Luv hosted the Rapdown on WGCI. Remember when Hip-Hop was still classified as Pop?

Just like today’s music creators, we found ourselves victims of stereotype and generalization. No matter what type of Hip-Hop you performed, we were labeled as thugs and criminals, as opposed to platform-builders or entrepreneurs. Frankly, I still find it hard to understand because these labels came from a generation of music listeners who witnessed the rise and fall of Black pride, the decimation of Urban neighborhoods due to covert government programs like COINTELPRO, and, ironically, the Black Panthers. The street organizations of the 80’s and 90’s began as community organizations to uplift and empower urban youth. I didn’t understand how could they hate Hip-Hop when the subject matter in Hip-Hop was a consequence of the actions of the previous generation. 

Now I watch as my generation does the exact same thing to today’s music creators. The question is…

Will the cycle continue?​

This Week’s Hip-Hop and Indie Releases

Good Music coming your way!

Hip Hop & Urban Releases from Dec 1- Dec 8

December 1

Roy Wood$- Say Less
Chief Keef- The Dedication
Miguel- War & Leisure

December 8

Statik Selektah- 8
Kidz In The Hall- Free Nights & Weekends
Post Malone- Beerbongs & Bentleys
50 Cent- STreet King Immortal
T.I- The Dime Trap
KXNG Crooked- Good vs. Evil: The Red

Indie Releases from Dec 1- Dec 8

December 1

Mojo Barnes- Signs
The Complex Dialect- Change
Glassjaw- Material Control
Morbid Angel- Kingdoms Disdained

Aramis – The Review of a Virtuoso

When we speak the word “Virtuoso”, we think about the classical greats: Mozart, Beethoven, Bach, etc. In good-natured bias, I did the same thing. Correction – used to do the same thing.

Hip-Hop & Nerdcore Artist Aramis forced me to change my way of thinking in 3 seconds. I hadn’t even listened to the album yet. I just saw the artwork & title.

“Virtuoso,” I thought aloud, “That’s a dope way to describe an emcee who you think has a very particular set of skills. Skills that make people like Aramis a nightmare for wack emcees like…”

This album made me think of Liam Neeson’s character, Bryan Mills, in the movie, Taken. Aramis is chasing the criminals who have stolen Hip-Hop from the lyricists. The only weapons he has are bars and this album.

Virtuoso is a mash-up of boom-bap style hip-hop and trap-ish melodies that very purposely showcases the steps that Aramis is taking to show his audience the wide range of his talents.

Damn, now I wish Aramis would have made a song called, “Bryan Mills”.

Virtuoso starts off the album with the introduction to an interview that he had on a radio show called, “Off The Hook”, with hosts Steven and Rasheed.

The album’s jump-off song, “Spike Spiegel”, is an ode to Cowboy Bebop’s main character, Spike Spiegel. Anime fans will really appreciate this track. The song goes so hard, listeners who don’t watch Cowboy Bebop will hit the interwebs to find out who Spike Spiegel is:

“I want some meat/

Because I been living on noodles for weeks/

Bell peppers and beef, without no beef/

You see what I’m sayin, I gotta eat/

Feel Me?

I’m all about Hip-Hop from The Struggle, and that stanza made me believe that Spike Spiegel could have been a “government-cheese kid”. This is an instance that shows how Virtuoso uses Anime to take us to Hip-Hop’s humble roots.

Push feat. Ambush Vin teams Aramis with the sci-fi emcee that takes us on an adventure through a cosmos, where both of the rappers are entities and rule as Gods.

No Way feat. Suport is a barfest that was forged in The Arena. Those who grew up listening to artists named Guru and Big Daddy Kane know exactly what the Arena is. The Arena was where the most skilled emcees could be found. Rappers didn’t just step into The Arena, you had to earn the right to. It’s obvious that Suport and Aramis both earned their meal ticket to this exclusive event:

Still the nerd that you nerd that you know so well/

But when I step up out the booth I’m Stefan Urkel/

Your Wins? low yeah I got the glow like I’m Show-/

Nuff said take it from a pro let it go/

Zeal brings us back to today’s sound with a Chill Trap beat produced by Dreamlife Beats. Zeal confronts, yet embraces the arrogance in all of us. As the song says, “Sometimes you gotta stop living down here, and start living up there.” Zeal will make you feel better about big-upping yourself. There’s nothing wrong with showing a little zeal now and then. “How does it feel,” the song tauntingly questions us, “when you living on Zeal?”

On and On takes deeper into Aramis’ mind. I feel like this is a message to someone or even some entities from his past and present. As if he is letting those people who are in the audience listening that he has moved on, even while they stay the same and keep the same things going “on and on”. This song will make you reflect and reminisce, especially on the bridge with the guitar accompaniment. There are some deep moments on this track also:

Gotta keep it pushin long as I’m alive/

That’s why I hope that I survive the encounter next time the cops arrive…/

Worried feat. Razz Na$-T could easily be the anthem for Virtuoso. The emcees both turn all the way up to let the audience know that they “ain’t worried bout nothing”.  Razz Na$ T ends his verse with a stanza that drills so fast, it would make Twista blush!

Nerdcore Artists have been releasing an influx of great albums this year so far. You can add Virtuoso to 2017’s trophy case.

 

Review Grade: B+

Metrics (on a scale between 1 – 10)

Lyrics: 9.8

Production: 9

Quality: 8

Replay Value: 8.5

Total: 35.3 (88.3%)

 

The Breakdown: My hip-hop appetite was full by the time I reached the end of Virtuoso. The thing I enjoyed the most about this album was Aramis’ determination to make sure the elements were well-represented. There are many albums today labeled as “hip-hop”, but don’t represent the original elements: Bboying, MCing, Beatboxing, DJing, and Graffiti. Listening to Virtuoso, I can picture all 5 of the elements. This was a feat to accomplish for an emcee who labels himself as “Nerdcore”. The awesome part about that is, he doesn’t run away from the Nerdcore label. He embraces it.

The album vocals were clear. I could hear everything said very well. My biggest criticism of Virtuoso is that it could have been sonically fuller. If Aramis would have had this album mastered, this album could have been blowing my JBL woofers out instead of making me turn up my amp or adjusting the bass boost on my radio. However, those are improvements that Aramis can easily make on future releases.

For now, I’ll just relax and imagine what it feels like to be Virtuoso.

You can purchase Virtuoso on iTunes at: https://itunes.apple.com/us/album/virtuoso/id1225368114

 

 

 

 

 

The Shortlist – September 9, 2016

The Best New Music Every Week

As Fall approached and the days continue to get shorter in the Northern Hemisphere the musical landscape is beginning to follow suit with calmer, more introspective themes and even drifting into downright darkness at times.  This week’s playlist is stocked with a few cuts and previews from Fall releases and a decent helping of chill hip-hop.  Put it on to ease yourself into the new season.

c0689dbc258eb062f5a712ba817f011f7f7934a8Angel Olsen – Never Be Mine

Angel Olsen’s highly anticipated follow up to 2014’s Burn Your Fire For No Witness was released this week.  MY WOMAN is a collection of expertly written, dreamy guitar pop and only serves to solidify Olsen as one of the most impressive voices in the genre.  “Never Be Mine” recalls early ’60s girl-group hits like “Be My Baby” as her voice floats with ease atop the swelling wall of sound.

2dffe48b794fab2c5f915af10e6d964fd08db8b4Action Bronson – Descendants of the Stars

New York rapper Action Bronson has recently veered away from making music to hosting and co-creating TV shows on Viceland, but apparently he at least still has some free time to make theme songs for his shows.  With a simple, piano-anchored beat, “Descendants of the Stars” is a gritty track that really spotlights Bronson’s nasal tone and variety of weird non sequitur  bars.

e60c01e920a56c7bb5e1843b43e616cfb00f957eEverything Everything – I Believe It Now

The UK power pop group have a wonderfully unique sound.  They’re more artsy about a lot of things than their contemporaries.  They don’t shy away from singer Jonathan Higgs’ shrieking falsetto.  They stay poppy and danceable while sounding unlike anything that’s made to be poppy and danceable.  “I Believe It Now” is no exception.  The new single pulls from bass-driven ’80s pop before exploding into the fist pumping chorus and throwing in a gravelly electronic bridge for good measure.

8834ac4ea759929a5cb9c80505a30672cce0daaaSampha – Blood On Me

Sampha proved himself during his years of work with SBTRKT, but up until this year he hardly had any solo material.  But now he has been setting himself up to release a new project all his own and the cuts he has released sound awesome.  “Blood On Me” shows expert use of harmonies and structure and presents the artist as a singular force that can easily stand on his own.

ed4e335b4e2ecd674eeea470ea24e0d9e70a430eSylvan Esso – Radio

Before Sylvan Esso’s debut album, the suggestion that a cappella folk singer Amelia Meath and electronic musician Nick Sanborn would come together to make one of the most creative sounds of the past few years might read like the musings of a crazy person.  But it more than works, it excels and “Radio” only serves to continue the success of the fusion.  Meath’s intense alto vocals are perfectly matched Sandborn’s layered production and rumbling bass to create a thick and rich sound.

406aabe72389535e80c87f5eca520439a7249e90Joey Bada$$ – Brooklyn’s Own

Joey Bada$$ is all about the old school.  He’s demonstrated time and time again that he’s done his homework and want nothing more than to carry on the legacy of classic East Coast hip-hop.  “Brooklyn’s Own” nods to Biggie with fluid rhyme schemes and a golden era tinged beat while still retaining Joey’s point of view.  His punchy consonants and loose flow bring the old into the new quite effectively.

cd9da404eac38ab71b653f82991b7198d5c16098Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds – Jesus Alone

With the upcoming Skeleton Tree, Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds hopefully are prepping a tremendous return to form.  Perhaps not a return sonically as much as a return emotionally.  The band and it’s leader thrive in the darkest subjects and in setting an ominous mood.  “Jesus Alone” is a droning, 6-minute long expedition into the mind that flips between unsettling and uplifting piano accents.  It’s vagueness leaves everything open and gets under the skin.  It’s what Nick Cave is best at.

f6f992e8650dc28f0361c101acc6677ae479e49fIsaiah Rashad – Free Lunch

Top Dawg Entertainment has produced some of the most impressive and highly-regarded artists in hip-hop and Isaiah Rashad is a big up-and-comer from the label.  His new album The Sun’s Tirade is out now and features some modern bangers and a few chill R&B flavored cuts like “Free Lunch”.  The beat with it’s bright guitars and smooth keyboards drives this track and let’s Rashad drop some well written verses.  He’s going places for sure and the album is definitely worth a listen.

52abd9c07908386d56681b87a3c22b54bc904ed6Bon Iver – 33 “GOD”

Bon Iver already dropped a few alternate versions of upcoming tracks from 22, A Million but “33 ‘GOD'” is the first fully formed, final version of a single we’ve heard and it finds the group veering pretty hard from their roots.  They are introducing a lot of electronic production and samples and pulling equal influence from experimental art-pop and mainstream ’80s rock.  It’s clear that Justin Vernon and company are doing some heavy experimentation.  Let’s just hope it isn’t so heavy that it buries the songwriting that originally drew people to the band.

adb5816c319e0cab20a422af0bee5c4801b448d6Shakey Graves – Tomorrow

“Tomorrow” comes off of an upcoming compilation from Dualtone Records who have housed Americana giants like Shovels & Rope, Brett Dennen, and the Lumineers.  It’s a stripped down recording where Austin singer-songwriter Shakey Graves gets to play with his tempo and rhythm.  It’s not a happy song exactly, but you can hear him having a good time.  This track’s aggressive, loose guitar work  and emotive vocal performance honestly might be the high point of the compilation, but if it is, it’s a really solid high point.

Listen to the playlist below and follow Altwire for more

Altwire Review: DJ Shadow – The Mountain Will Fall

DJ Shadow made history 20 years ago with Endtroducing… a one of a kind instrumental hip-hop album composed entirely of samples.  And while his later works never quite hit the same heights as that debut, the west coast producer has continued to deliver some of the most unique instrumental albums in the genre.  Shadow doesn’t just make beats, he constructs impressive soundscapes that weave in and out of each other.  He ties them up into a narrative arc without really needing words, and The Mountain Will  Fall follows the same tack.  The tracklist features more guest spots than one might expect, but none of them steal the spotlight away from where it should be: the beats, the music, the tone.  It’s not an attempt to recreate Endtroducing… but Shadow’s motivations seem to come from the same place and its success stems from that more than anything else.

Experimentation and novelty made DJ Shadow a legend and the same things take The Mountain Will Fall out of the realm of beat-tapes and into its own space.  The album begins with a spoken “Hi!” and swelling, ambient synth pads before the beat drops in with a sampled holler and thunderous, wonky drum sounds.  The serenity and calmness of the synths and the beat sheer volume and force smash against each other in confusion and harmony, never sure if it’s a competition and if it is, who is winning.  The whole project tilts that way.  Elements find themselves in strange contrast with other elements, drops land in unexpected places like they showed up early or late.  Most of the time, confusion serves to benefit the overall concept, but not always.

The second track, “Nobody Speak,” which features Run The Jewels, is on of the more out of place pieces.  Not to say it’s bad, it just feels more like an El-P beat than a DJ Shadow beat and it’s the only fully and clearly lyrical song on the project.  The tone and the lyrics don’t line up with the rest of the album, and the following track, “Three Ralphs” is hardly a full composition and serves mostly as a bridge between “Nobody Speak” and the nine following songs.  By track five, “The Sideshow” however, Shadow finds a solid pocket and The Mountain Will Fall, doesn’t lose much steam from there on out.  The track features abundant record scratches, deep brass bass, and a killer break-beat that nods to the sound of the mid 90’s when Shadow was coming up.

The back half of The Mountain Will Fall continues the atmospheric trend with the dark and intense “Depth Charge” and the waves and soft electronic accents of “Ashes to Oceans.”  Each track contains elements that seem outside of DJ Shadow’s normal comfort zone but to his credit, he works them into his more comfortable style effortlessly.  “California” picks up about three minutes in and shows a noisy, aggressive side to the artist that sounds Death Grips inspired.  Tracks like “Mambo” and “Ghost Town” involve that newly popular style of hesitated drum hits and high, fast tempo, clicks.  It’s a new sound for Shadow, but he makes these things sound right at home amid his piano loops and deep house bass.

Enough time and perseverance might surely make a mountain fall to the ground, just like time and perseverance can keep a legendary producer from ever sounding stale.  The Mountain Will Fall is a picture of an artist who keeps moving motivated by curiosity and experimentation.  Consistent evolution is the name of the game for DJ Shadow.  He’s not the same DJ he was in ’96 but he’s still one of the most creative and original music-makers in the business.

An Introduction to artist Moxie Raia

Moxie Raia Is an artist that manages to blur the lines of Hip-Hop, R&B , and Pop. It’s a lethal combination that kills you a little bit softly. I just listened to her mixtape 931 which was released back in March, and I was pleasantly surprised by the growth of this artist. She recently gained notoriety with her singles “Buffalo Bill”, and “Bad Decisions” ,and “I love it when you cry”. So far I have loved everything that this artist has released, and this mix tape is no exception.  

 

“Rudimental” Is a track that features rapper Jimi Tents. It’s a great opener for a mix tape that plays more like an album then you would expect for an artist’s debut project. It’s a smooth tune balanced out with warm simple piano chords.

 

“Could You Be Love “, picks up the tempo a bit with a bass line that makes you nod your head along  .There is also a featured rapper on this track by the name of Buddy .This is is probably one of my favorites on the whole record .

 

There are a few notable tracks that really grabbed my attention ,like the song “On My Mind”. “On My Mind” is a track that features Pusha T,and some pretty nice samples. The lyrics are pretty well executed and laid down with sultry vocals by Raia .

 

“Hey Love” is a really nice track that has some well thought out background vocals. You can hear the pain of loss seeping through Moxie Raia’s vocals.

 

“Healer” has an addictive piano line that is well complimented with amazing lyrics. This song grabs your attention and keeps you thinking about it long after you’ve finished listening.

 

“How to feel” is definitely a favorite of mine. The song is just so well executed. Simple piano chords chase haunting lyrics, and you’re left  wondering if you even know how to feel anymore.

 

“Over Now” Is a big track featuring Love Mansuy. It’s Not one of my favorites but it does compliment the mixtape well.

 

I love “Follow Me”. It’s such a beautiful song, it’s simple and complicated in way that can’t really be explained. This duet with Wyclef Jean is probably the most surprising song on this whole mix tape.  

 

“Bad Decision”, is my favorite song by this artist period . It’s such a strong song .The production is amazing and I love the lyrics . We all make bad decisions ,but not all of us can turn those decisions into such a catchy song .

 

“Write Our Names” featuring Post Malone shows of the vocal capabilities of Moxie Raia. This song is the last song on this mixtape and it leaves with something to remember .

   I won’t call this an album review because this isn’t really an album , even though it feels like one by the time you’re done listening to it. I know we all have mix tape fear but this is a really well-rounded mix tape. It’s only the beginning for Moxie Raia and I can’t wait for her debut album. You can listen to her mixtape 931 on her sound cloud which is posted below . 

 

 

Album Review: Drake, VIEWS

drake-views-from-the-6-to-arrive-end-of-april

International rap superstar Drake released his much anticipated fourth studio album on April 29th. Prior to it’s release very little was known about the album, aside from the two leaked tracks, and were all but ready for some new Drizzy. This is evident, as the album sold 630,000 copies on the very first day of release, but did VIEWS really live up to all of the hype around it?

VIEWS was largely produced by 40, Drake’s long time friend and go-to producer. 10 out of the 20 songs on VIEWS were produced by 40, but other big names like: Kanye West, Metro Boomin, and Boi1da are also had production credits. While the album features many different producers the album still has that classic Toronto/Drake sound, which I am a huge fan of. Overall the album has a very relaxing and laid back vibe, but that’s not to say the album is low energy. There are a number of songs high energy songs on VIEWS. Take Hype for example, the song is high energy and features some explosive drums.

Lyrically this is a very interesting album. Of course you have the classic sad Drake songs like Redemption, where Drake reminisces about old girls, and of course you have the obligatory shots at Meek Mill and Tory Lanez throughout the album (most notable on Hype). Drake’s maturity and self awareness on this album really shocked me though. On U With Me Drake drops a funny, yet serious line about how he has made a career off of reminising, and on Weston Road Flows he makes reference to the fact that he is going to have to retire eventually. He specifically says he will retire when he’s 35, which gives us another 2 or 3 Drake albums to listen to.

That’s for sure though, I made a career of reminiscin’

Time got a funny way of tickin’, things are so much different

I’ll admit it, I’ve admitted to a lot of things

In all likelihood this is the peak of Drake’s career. This is by far the most put together and focused album Drake has ever put out. VIEWS is flat out beautiful. While I wish I could say that Drake is going to be on top forever, I can’t. He’s already thinking about retirement, and honestly what other rapper has had this level of success as long as Drake has (other than Kanye West who’s the most hated man in America). All we can do now is kick back, listen to VIEWS, and wait and see if Drake’s next album can top VIEWS. He has his work cut out for him.

Favorite Songs: 9, Feel No Ways, Weston Road Flows, Redemption, Faithful, Views

Least Favorites Songs: None

Grade: A

 

Blueprint talks Vigilante Genesis

If one line Blueprint ever spit on a record could serve as a mantra for his career path, it might be this one from 2011’s “Radio-Inactive”:

“Make it more commercial, Print/
You probably would sell more”
But I’m eating now, so I’m like, “What the hell for?”

Blueprint is one of the most prolific producers, rappers, and collaborators in the underground scene since 1999. Blueprint has steadily churned out banger after banger with acts such as: Rhymesayers, Greenhouse Effect, Soul Position, and Atmosphere. He started out as a producer; churning out dark, head-bobbing beats for Aesop Rock and Illogic. Soon, he jumped into the rap game and honed his distinctive, yet deliberate pace, along with his elastic flows. His approach has been one of constant evolution and improvement from record to record; especially since 2011’s major stylistic turning point, Adventures in Counter Culture.

On April 20, Blueprint announced a new narrative EP produced entirely by fellow Rhymesayers veteran Aesop Rock.  I got the chance to chat with him between his many projects.  We spoke at length about his inspiration behind the album and the stylistic direction of the story.  Read the interview below:

VG-CD-Cover-Update_smaller

AltWire [Dan Kok]: So Vigilante Genesis is a story album. What is the inspiration for this story in particular?

Blueprint: I mean I’d say it’s a combination of reading comic books and having shit happen in real life that kind of makes you think about what you can do and what you would do if certain things happened, you know?  So the character in the story he’s…he’s just a regular dude, you know, but he’s just kind of trying to figure out how to find, you know…I guess resolution in an environment where that’s just not possible.  So, he’s trying to find a way to get back at businesses or institutions or whatever his way is of fighting.  But in doing so he kind of get’s taken down the wrong road.  I mean it’s a fine line between activism and vigilanteism and just, you know, thinking you’re taking matters into your own hands but there’s also the law involved.  And so the record kinda goes deep into-

Random nail gun noisily falls 

[laughs] Random nail gun.  Yeah, so there’s that fine line, so the record kinda comes from that.

Yeah

There was an event where I kind of felt like…I was dealing with this business and I felt like they kind of shitted on me.  And it just gave me the idea like “Man, what do you do when you can’t get no resolution?  Is this why people bust out windows of businesses?”  They say a lot of employee theft is due to, you know, being unhappy with pay and things of that nature, these little passive aggressive or just directly aggressive things that people do.  It made me think about that, so the story kind of came from that and from just falling back in love with and rediscovering comics again.

Are there specific comics that served as a jumping off point?

I think around 2008 or 2009…I stopped drinking in 2010, but in 2008 and 2009 I started getting back into reading again.  You know I missed so many comic books; years of comics.  I remember looking at some top 10 lists of the best graphic novels of all time.  So I went back and I looked at the list and I was like “Man, I’m gonna try to get as many of these as possible.”  So I took that list and I went back and, like, I read the Watchmen for the first time…

So good

Yeah I read Batman: The Dark Night Returns, Batman Year One…The Sandman, some Daredevil stuff, I just started getting into more of the full length graphic novels and that kind of got me into reading again.  Those stories and that whole ethic.  You know, those are all people with no powers except Dr. Manhattan in Watchmen; but except him, none of the other characters have powers. It just kind of awakened me to that kind of story telling.

Yeah, I think it’s interesting, those normal people and that sort of darker bent to a lot of those comics.  They explore that very fine line between moral right and moral wrong.  That’s very interesting that you mention those as major inspirations for this album.  Does this story also sort of toe that line between moral right and moral wrong?

Oh completely, completely it does.  I mean there’s parts where, you know, the character is trying to do the right thing, but he’s not afraid to, like, cut somebody or stab somebody. [laughs] You know, whereas most guys they have that absolute thing, Batman won’t use a gun, Daredevil won’t either, he won’t kill anyone.  My character doesn’t really have that.  It’s not necessarily revealed in this thing, in the story, that he’s that guy.  He’ll take it as far as the people who are attempting to harm him will take it.

Aside from the comic books, your work seems to have sort of a juggling of the idea of having a real respect for the art form and a real reverence for the roots of everything and where it’s taken you and a knowledge and some harsh criticisms of how that has affected culture in sometimes negative ways.  Does this album fit at all into that idea?

I don’t think so.  I think this is kind of…Because this record, there’s only like one song that isn’t a complete story.  So this record is pretty much a concept record, as much as you can make a concept record.  I kind of wanted to really challenge myself to make the record its own thing and not be like anything else in my catalogue.

As far as sound goes, you’ve also had really consistently evolving sounds especially since Adventures in Counter Culture.  There was a really ethereal, synth-y sound to that and Respect the Architect ended up with more of a boom-bap thing.  What kind of sound influences are gonna come into Vigilante Genesis?

Well this record was produced entirely by Aesop Rock.

Right

That right there just changes the whole feel there.  Maybe a feel I wouldn’t have gone for myself for just a standard record.  But for a concept record where we’re talking about the darker elements of human behavior and vigilanteism and dealing with people, I think that his production fits it perfectly.  It’s not production that he would have necessarily rhymed on himself.  He would send me beats for it and there may be ten beats and I would always pick the one that he didn’t think I would pick.  He’d be like “Why’d you pick that one?” So he was thinking he’d put the ones he liked the most as the first 5 or 10, and I would pick the 11th one every time. [Laughs]

So you’re saying it’s a whole self contained thing.  I don’t know, is this a typical Blueprint record? A typical Aesop record?  An Orphanage record?  None?  All?

I don’t think it’s either.  I think it’s gonna be something new unto itself.  I think he just put out a new single from his latest record and, I mean, the stuff that we’re doing on this project doesn’t sound like anything on his record.  And theres a reason, and the main reason is that when you’re telling stories, you have to make sure that the music is kind of a backdrop.  It’s almost, like, the same philosophy as when people are scoring movies.  When they score movies there not choosing the music that bangs, you know?  There choosing the music that complements the mood of the narrative and that’s kind of what I chose in his production every time.  I chose pieces that completely complemented the narrative, but they wouldn’t necessarily be beats that you would hear and say “I’m gonna write a rap song talkin’ shit” you know?  It’s perfect for what I’m doing but it doesn’t necessarily fit anything that we’ve done prior.

Is this the longest full project you’ve worked with Aesop on?

Yes it is.

So what was it like to come together with him on something so highly conceptual and really ambitious?

The production part for him was probably…that was probably the easiest part.  The difficult part was for me to make sure I had the story and the vision and was choosing things that could make the story sound right.  Not repetitive, not sounding like his stuff or my stuff, not what people expect from us.  That was the biggest challenge.  I mean as far as his working attitude, Aesop is the consummate professional.  He’s a guy that wakes up and does music all day.  If you call him up and say “Hey I need a…whatever for this” he’ll probably get it back to you within an hour.  That’s the kind of musician he is.  He doesn’t play basketball or play chess, you know…[laughs] He doesn’t go to the bar, watch MMA, he doesn’t do that shit.  He just is into music, he’s that kind of guy.

You’ve both had absurd turnaround times on stuff lately.  Like, coming out with consistently one or two projects a year since Adventures in Counter Culture in 2011.  What do you think it is about you guys that makes you so able to do that?

If I had to guess I would say that it’s the fact that neither of us drink. [laughs] That’s my first guess, I think sobriety.  Cause when I was drinking I couldn’t turn around records as fast, I’d be sitting around second guessing myself for about a year having something great.  I thought like “I’ll just do it when I’m inspired.”  Now it’s like, “Aw, let me just finish this.  Let me just dedicate more time to it.”  That was my turning point.  And as far as I know I don’t think [Aesop] has really ever been a drinker…as an artist those things kind of help loosen you up at times, but then they kind of have a diminishing return after a while.

I think it’s interesting you mention second guessing.  Is it that you’re more confident with what you’re putting out?  Or have you just learned to not second guess and just put it out because thats better than waiting until it’s perfect?

Exactly, because there’s no such thing as perfect.  I’ve had situations where the music I’ve worked on for the least amount of time has been the most well received and the music that I’ve sat on forever trying to make it “perfect” has been the least well received.  And in my mind I knew that because I’d worked on this thing for a long period of time that everyone else would see that or hear it.  But that’s not always the case, you know.  I think that as you do it longer and longer you kind of understand that more and more that just because you worked on something forever doesn’t mean its good or it’s gonna hit the people.  They don’t necessarily know that backstory, they just know the finished product.

Right.  So one of my big questions is that with Aesop handling the production and you taking the MCing, those are not the roles that each of you found notoriety for early in your careers.  Twisting that and putting him on production and you on vocals, it seems like it might be a surprise to some.  Is that something you were actively thinking about?

I mean, I think for me and Aesop, I’ve known him for so long that I feel like as a friend and as a fan I’ve watched him progress as a producer over the years to where I remember when he was afraid to do beats, he’d maybe do one beat.  Then he went to where he was like “I’ll maybe do 3 or 4 and let Blockhead do the rest.”  And then he’s like “You know what?  I actually produced this whole record myself.”  And he’d send it to me early and I’m like “Yo man, this is great.  You’ve got it.”  So I think that I always saw his progression from a technical standpoint even though, like you’re saying, he was known as an MC first and foremost and his production was secondary.  And my role was different, I started in the background producing Illogic and Greenhouse records, then as an MC I started making a name but people still know me as a producer primarily.  So my choice in that sense was, like, seeing how far he’s come and seeing how dope he is as a producer and just what he can create, I thought he could perfectly complement what I was doing.  But I knew that technically he was there, and I thought this was kinda of an interesting take on what people know of us.

Yeah, I think it’s a really interesting take, whether you were intentionally trying to step outside of those expectations or not, I think it’s a cool flipping of the script.

Yeah.

And you have the first single out today right?

Yeah, I just posted it about 30 minutes ago.

Awesome, I’m gonna go check it out right away.  I can’t wait to hear what it’s all gonna sound like.

Okay.

Well I’m sure you are busy getting everything together and probably working on the next thing already.  But you know I’ve got my preorder in and I really can’t wait to hear what you come up with.

Awesome.  Thanks man, I appreciate that.  And we’re working on a new Soul Position.  I mean, it’s pretty much done, I just have to rerecord a couple things.

I can’t wait to hear that too.

Yeah, so this might be another year where I actually get out two big records.

That sounds great.  Well thanks for taking the time, man.

No problem, thank you.

Here is the first single from Blueprint’s upcoming Vigilante Genesis EP, produced entirely by Aesop Rock. Vigilante Genesis comes out May 27th.

Photo Sources & Credit: printmatic.net & weightess.net