FilthyBroke Recordings’ Michael J. Collins Speaks on Respect, Running a Label, and Life in the Indie Scene

by Dustin

fbr

When a seasoned veteran of the music scene is willing to open up about their experiences, it’s generally wise to open your ears. Those who have committed to the indie scene grind their whole life have a wealth of stories, knowledge, and warnings for those who wish to follow the same path. Michael J. Collins, the leader of FilthyBroke Recordings (and long-time indie musician) is one of these such people.

To keep it short and sweet (because this interview is long and wonderfully in-depth), he’s seen a lot. We were fortunate enough to get to have a long sit-down with Michael, and the end result is an unforgettable interview about clawing his way through the music scene, and establishing an independent music outlet. He’s also a super charismatic dude – the interview was an unforgettable process that we couldn’t be more pleased to have had.

This is necessary reading for anyone enticed by a similar trail, and recommended reading for those who just love music.

EN: So, I’ll start with the basics since I like to make sure there’s info for new readers. When and why did you decide to start up Filthy Broke Recordings?

MJC: FilthyBroke Recordings, often referred to as FBR, will be three years old in May of this new year. As for the “why”… Jeesh, there’s a multitude of factors, but I can distill things down:

I had quit music twice before, and realized I would never be satisfied unless I could have a safe outlet to put out whatever the fuck I wanted. Some of which is hip-hop, much of which is not. Having released on many imprints around the world for several years, I learned the hard way that I am much more comfortable being a lone-wolf. Even if that means making way less money.

EN: I can definitely relate to that – at least from the writing side of things. I like being in control of my own output, even though it feels limiting at times. Do you ever feel frustrated with the sacrifices you had to make to achieve that “lone-wolf” status?

MJC: Oh man, in the beginning? Heck yeah, often. Particularly getting used to not making money, even though I knew that would be the case going in. As an artist that had never tried the label thing before, I honestly almost quit music again as our first release was coming together. Basically, I had been used to putting out 12″s on other folks’ labels for some time. I would get my fee and my royalties quarterly, and not really consider what was going on over on the other side. At that time, as you said, I wanted some control over what I was creating rather than being told by a label, “make more stuff like that one [release] from 2008.” This desire for control, as well as my lack of knowing how hard it actually is to run a label are what manifested into FBR.

Dude, within three months of the label going from concept to [the first] 12″ order being placed, I was stolen from… A myriad other shady shit happened that nearly led to me walking away before it even started… At that point my money was all-in though, so I figured try to peddle a few records and then call it quits. Going through a divorce at that time certainly did not help my lack of enthusiasm. Somehow things just kept going despite myself and my tendency to self-sabotage.

I still plan to get my fucking $350 from that punk out in California. If you are reading this, “CM”, know this to be true. I may show up at 84 with an oxygen tank by my side, but I will get that money back. I know it seems petty, y’all, but stealing is wack as fuck, and there are principles at stake for me anyway.

In short, the beginning was a nightmare. Now I am so so happy I made those sacrifices and stuck it out. I still go crazy daily. Hourly.

EN: That’s pretty intense man – it sounds like you’re one hell of a stubborn dude (I mean that in the best way) when it comes to your label. Was there a particular point where you finally were able to say, “You know what? I can do this?”

MJC: Ha! I am stubborn to a fault, I am obsessed with people “doing the right thing” and realize all of that is based in my own unrealistic expectations of others… Like, for real, I in no way wanna come off as negative about things, how things started, just how it was for better or for worse. It was a learning experience of the highest order, in that it truly tested whether or not I felt I could work in music in some other capacity than simply being a recording artist. Though I felt like saying “Fuck it” so many times I learned that people (myself included) are flawed, some youngsters/older folk have never dealt with labels before, not worth throwing shade… Rather, learn from the “climate” of what’s happening in the moment, pick a solid circle of trustworthy people, and love them to death. Help each other to the end of the earth… So, yeah… It was probably like three months ago actually where I felt like, “I can do this. I may be good at this actually, I am growing a thicker skin and a wonderful network.” And the bottom line is that putting out a wide array of music that oddly caught on a bit, with no PR, is addictive. I wanna prove everyone wrong, like, “we don’t pay to play but are sustaining.” Maybe unrealistic, but now if ever is a time for idealism.

EN: With that in mind, I guess this goes back a bit to what we talked about before the interview too, that artists and labels need to respect each other. How important is that respect to you in your operations both as an artist and label head?

MJC: In my mind, Dustin, [it] is paramount to everything. Respect is huge, I think that also taking a step back from one’s own bubble to listen to [and] push the work of others is crucial. I am always preaching, “Support Independent Music.” It was not until starting the label that I really knew what that meant, for me. And for me that means actually SUPPORTING good art by good people, whether it is associated with FBR or not. I believe that at the end of the day, cooperation trumps competition (pun intended. Like, I feel happier (and feel the label does much better) when I am sharing music by other people.

Sharing my own stuff all day is not only boring, but feels stale and selfish when there is so much other amazing music out there. I get turned off by (what I consider to be) ego-driven people, artists and labels. Folks that claim they are “The Best.” Folks that scream for support of their work yet do not engage with others. Liars, cheats and thieves. I guess it’s selfishness that turns me off, as I see it as completely nonproductive in this day and age.

Yes, I prefer the “lone-wolf” aspect of control over the label’s output… However, I would have been dead in the water were it not for people like Fake Four Inc, Oliver Booking Company, Walter Gross, Ceschi, Fremdtunes outta the Netherlands, [and] so many others. These types of people contribute so much to our underground music scene; [they] do so with grace and a willingness to push the work of other unaffiliated artists and labels simply because it’s good stuff and worth sharing. The act of sharing someone else’s music may not seem like much, but when you do not pay to play nor have PR it is actually invaluable. I personally make a point to share non-FBR music all day, mixed in with some stuff about what we have going on. It feels so good to have someone say, “Yo, this is so dope. Thanks for sharing it, I have never heard this before.” And said person then has been turned onto something they can relate to or enjoy. I know that most of our music has been heard due to other people taking time to mention it.

That feeling of community is so necessary for me, as I have had some very bad experiences as mentioned earlier.

EN: Man, I definitely feel that – one if my biggest passions is putting people onto new stuff. Especially when it comes to independent art. Do you also feel like the music industry as a whole is pushing toward a more “grassroots” collective of small communities now that major labels have fallen out of favour (in part due to how they disrespect artists)?

MJC: Yeah man, I do see things moving towards a more “grassroots” perspective! And like you said, putting people on to other stuff seems to be a part of that. As far as what I was trying to explain before, regarding folks trying to band together, I am really happy to say I am observing it more and more. I know I often come off as crabby and negative, however the ideal I was mentioning earlier… As far as people big-upping each other rather than trying to push a singular agenda? It’s happening and I love it. Thus, I choose to surround myself with artists that see the benefit of exploring new music, sharing new music by friends or some 16-year old in Greenland.

Promoting myself and the label naturally comes with the territory. On the other hand, by actively participating in the scene as simply a fan? That has been not only the most fun, but the most rewarding because of the relationships that have manifested over time. I have been fortunate to work with people I have admired for 25 years, people I would obsess over as a kid… It’s such a trip. The only reason those things happened is because of friendships building over time. Friendships that organically started from a simple retweet in some cases. Let people know you dig what they are doing! Make a point of telling friends what you are into at the moment! It’s as grassroots as it gets, but it’s fun and the only way forward in my humble opinion. Little collectives banding together can make a big fucking noise.

EN: Related to this – I have to ask, how does it feel for you when you see someone repping a project you were involved in (either as an artist, or a label head)? I know for me, when I’ve received props for the site from someone I’ve admired it really brightens my day. Hell, even my whole week sometime

MJC: Oh dude, you have no idea! I still freak out like a little kid on his birthday! Call me a fanboy, but I am so full of self-doubt when it comes to my own music (which I have now been releasing for 20 fucking years). I don’t know whether to laugh or cry about that [laughs]. Not to mention I am so busy with the label and mastering for other labels I don’t often get to write these days. Thus, when someone I really admire takes a liking to a new piece it is refreshing and I feel elated. Like, “Okay, maybe I don’t suck as bad as I think and don’t need to quit.” I’ve become much better though, in that these days I am my own harshest critic. Back in the day when I was releasing a lot of music on other labels, I would smash my copy of the 12″ before it ever entered my home. Now I can listen to what I have done over the last couple years and not cry or throw up… Progress! I simply find reassurance when others reach out and say, “This isn’t bad, keep putting out music.” Otherwise I would just record for myself and never release it.

These days the biggest rush comes from the mastering stuff. I just finished mastering the new Walter Gross for Sole’s Black Box Tapes. Just being entrusted with something like that is so humbling and exciting.

EN: That’s so cool, I own some of Walter Gross’ music and he’s a beast. Dude’s got one of the most evil sounding styles out there, in my opinion. Did it take a long time to get to the point where artists regularly trusted you? I imagine building that rapport could be a lengthy process.

MJC: I have no idea how it ended up this way to be honest… It really should not have. I mean, Walter is literally my favourite contemporary recording artist. [He] is the most underrated person in underground music plain and simple, in my opinion.

I actually remember how it kinda started! I had recorded a remix for a label outta Canada. It was to be broadcast, pre-mastering, on some BBC radio show mix. The artist hit me up and said, “louden it for me so I can play it on the radio.” I had never messed around with post-production before, as I had been advised to leave it to the professionals. This was like 7 or 8 years ago. So, I started playing with a limiter and making really bad, really loud pre-release “masters” of stuff for promo purposes, [like] DJ mixes and such. I sucked so bad and knew it. As with everything else I knew I had to step up my game – learn some shit. I was totally secluded in the mountains of Arizona, and had no one to help me out. I just lived on engineering forums and started out with a few plug-ins. After playing around for a few years I felt like I was sorta getting a sense of what sounded proper and what sounded like trash. I bought some more gear and started doing it for FBR.

The turning point was when we released the Hoot cassette. It was archival material recorded between ’05-’09. It was all over the place, and I felt that I was ready for a challenge. For some reason the whole thing just flowed and turned out okay! Then I mastered the Walter Gross release for FBR, [which was] a while ago. From there I realized it was time to really go for it, but was still nervous as hell about ruining the work of others.

For some reason a few people trusted me as I continued to learn. I did the post-production on the joint release we did with Fake Four (which is awful now that I listen [laughs], but it taught me a lot). That trust enabled me to make a lot of mistakes and also learn a ton of stuff. I stepped up the studio and started trusting my ears. For the last six months I have felt really comfortable in the mastering lab, and somehow attained a client base. I just got a job tonight in fact, from someone I did an eight CD mastering project for a couple months back. I thought it was gonna take forever to find clients and build the rapport you spoke of; [however], I think since mastering is so fucking expensive (and I love doing it), trying to make it affordable has helped. I also think that my communication with the artist helps. I am so picky that I would never want to put out someone else’s project with my name attached if the masters were shit. I turn down jobs that I do not feel I can improve upon aside from loudness. It’s taking time, we’re still in the beginning stages really, but much love to the several repeat clients! I have over 100 songs mastered for all formats dropping on various labels in the next 6 months. I am so grateful, and still learning. However, the fact many folks have come back repeatedly really enthuses me. Like, “maybe I can do this!” So much self-doubt [laughs]… Our latest, the new V8 tape, was mastered by me. I think it is my best work to date in that department. Thanks all for the one day sell-out!

EN: It sounds like you have a very strong sense of pride in your work – Do you ever get frustrated when you see an artist or label being lazy/sloppy with what they’re releasing?

MJC: I think the word “sense” is the operative word here, man. I wanna take pride in everything, but always feel I can do better. I think this can be good though, always challenging one’s self to do more, better. Our latest release, the V8 cassette, was certainly an exercise in trying to do “the best we have ever done.” It was by far the most complex and involved project we have ever been involved with. There were a lot of key players that allowed this thing to even make it to the point of release. The 12″ and digital are forthcoming on TSLOS outta Chicago this spring… I ended up mastering the whole thing for all formats, and then subsequently was asked to release the tape. I gladly jumped on it, as it features some amazing talent: DJ Pain1, Kenny Segal, Vyle, and more. Lot’s of close producer friends too. It ended up with me mastering like 30 songs that spanned nearly 90 minutes. Then we pulled from that for the 25 song cassette edition with a bonus track. We were so grateful and lucky to sell it out, as it was pretty expensive, but so worth it. V8 and I handled the music stuff. His girl Vern Royale did the packaging, [and] she absolutely killed it. It’s the most intricate and in-depth packaging we have ever done. It took months to finalize everything, the custom cassette pouches, custom handkerchiefs, and such were all placed in take-out bags with receipts and all. Each one custom, numbered, and with lots of extra goodies. It was really hard at times, I didn’t think we would pull it off to be honest. Now, seeing all of the pics that folks are taking of their orders is the payoff. I really liked V8 and Vern’s concept of basically making a takeout meal of music and art. Thankfully my girl and label partner helped a ton with design layout and such, as I suck at it.

My point in telling you all of this is basically that I want people to know how important each release is for us. I always wanna keep pushing to do something different. This leads to my answer to your question [laughs]… Yes, I get pissed off when I see sub-par merch. I recently ordered a limited release, it was quite expensive. The record had no label to indicate Side A or Side B. I mean, if this were some obscure drone release I could get with it. It was not though, and the packaging was flimsy as well. To this day I have no idea which side is which. I’m not really trying to talk shit, it’s a good record; however, I think attention to detail is hella important, especially now with so many people releasing music.

EN: That V8 packaging was really something unique – had I been in a better financial position when it dropped I would have scooped that up. Seeing creative physical packaging is, honestly, one of my favourite things about the independent scene. Which leads me into asking: do you think artists should strive to be creative with their releases now that physical media is becoming more of an indie scene thing? It feels like physical media is shifting more towards being an art form, rather than a bare bones distribution method. And I’m curious about your thoughts on it.

MJC: That’s a cool question because I actually thought a lot about this over the last couple of weeks. Everything I spew about quality packaging, art-centric releases, and unique extras that create a “theme” of sorts with the physicals? These are all very true for me personally, and how I plan to move forward. We have some really weird shit in the works for FBR011 and FBR012 as far as design and concept. While all of these things are vital to our vision, it’s simply a matter of taste I think. At the end of the day, the music is the most important thing to me. Thus, I can’t really speak to how other artists should approach their releases.

I have some bare-bone 12″s and cassettes, as far as packaging, but it just works. A white label with an “A” stamped on it for example, nothing else. And the music speaks for itself, in some ways adding more flair may have taken away from what was trying to be conveyed musically (but this is different than just sending out un-labeled records that seem kinda sketchy, as I mentioned earlier). So really, I think it’s a matter of quality product no matter the aesthetic. As long the artist feels they have seen their vision through completely, that’s a successful release in my opinion. Having an idea and feeling that the physical or digital final product fully conveys. With FBR, things are very “artsy” right now [laughs], but if you see our Walter cassette it is bare-bones as fuck yet fits the music perfectly so we all thought.

Oh, and the reason I just used the word “digital” is that I think digital releases rule. I love them. And for someone with little to no overhead, packaging can be pricey and time consuming. Maybe trying things digitally first is a way for one to dip one’s toe into the waters of releasing music. We are beefing up our digital series big-time in 2017, coordinating a biggie right now. Digital is just as viable as physical is my take on it. Like you said though, people really like physical goods and cool art concepts that coincide with them. I suppose if one wants to go down the “limited art release” route, it is just a matter of developing said concept and deciding if it can be executed well. If so, go for it.

EN: I feel like you’re describing a very tasteful minimalist approach, and I think that has a lot of artistic merit for sure. Even going back a few decades, New Order’s first release after Joy Division ended was incredible that way. The cover was just the band name, album name, and catalogue number. It looked amazing.

You also just lead into the next thing on my notes! I wanted to ask, do you think there’s too much negativity toward “digital only” releases? I see a lot of people complain when there isn’t a physical, but digital ultimately seems like the easiest distribution method.

MJC: Bro, I have the Factory Records book (FAC451, they did it just like a record release) sitting on my coffee table! That’s funny you bring up New Order and Joy Division, the Factory Records aesthetic was so dope. Exactly, you nailed it with the “tasteful minimalism” for many of their releases. It was a huge influence to me. Cabaret Voltaire released on Factory I believe, one of my favourite bands ever. Somehow founding member Stephen Mallinder has become an internet “friend,” and he has done two guest mixes for us. All because of non-ego driven people just giving each other props years ago! I digress, but it’s just a cool coincidence.

Hell yes, I think people hate on digital-only releases sometimes and consider them less artistically valuable or some shit. No way, not in my opinion. Again, that’s why we are expanding our digital series over here at the label. Digital releases are awesome and just as viable as physicals for many reasons: One can still make awesome digital art for it, the music can be amazing, the overhead is basically nothing, and it can be downloaded immediately in all formats, even .wav! I hope we see more folks with larger labels start to do some digital-only stuff, if only to make it feel more approachable to someone starting out. I hope to see the digital platform utilized even further.

EN: Do you think iTunes gave digital releases a bit of a scummy aura back when they were the dominant platform? I remember buying tracks and having the quality being all over the place (even though it’s listed at equivalent to a 256kbs mp3). To me this has always stood out as a reason why digital is looked upon so negatively. Fortunately we’ve got outlets like BandCamp now.

Hell, iTunes in the early-mid 2000s was half the reason I relied on scummy shit like WinMX and Limewire, unfortunately.

MJC: I was the same. After about a year of novelty, iTunes disinterested me and I stopped using it. Yes, 256kbs threw me [too]. $9.99 for a DRM album of sub-par audio quality ain’t my thing [laughs]. I think people like us may be in a very small minority though, to be honest. Like, do you think the average listener knows the difference between downloading something from iTunes as opposed to Bandcamp? I seriously have no idea! From the fact that the artist gets paid more to the fact that the music is better quality, even CD quality if one chooses? Seriously, I have no idea. And every time I go to get digital distribution set up, I sorta just let it slack and forget for another six months [laughs].

I’m not hating on streaming, but at my level I prefer to have shit available via BandCamp only these days. As far as I know, it’s the best platform as far as paying out to the artist or label. Were I Faith Hill or MC Hammer though, I would likely be all up in Spotify’s guts. I still get shit from music friends about this. Maybe it will change soon, maybe I am just lazy… I think part of it is that I only want the music available on platforms that provide a minimum of 320kbs MP3s, but especially .FLAC and .WAV. Since firing our distributor two years ago it’s been just me until quite recently, and that was rough. Hence, my laziness in certain areas.

EN: Do you see potential in streaming as an option for small labels though? I’ll argue until I’m blue in the face about how flawed streaming can be, but it definitely seems to have intriguing capabilities.

MJC: I am probably the last person to ask about that [laughs]. I have never even explored it due to all the horror stories I have heard about how it is useless. However, I am open to learning more as I agree with you, there must be potential there. High-res streaming would be cool. Maybe exists, but I missed it. I was just talking with my girl and we will likely explore it in the future, but maybe only if things get to a large enough scale where it would be advantageous.

EN: [Laughs], I appreciate the honesty. It’s just an interesting subject. Streaming is definitely heading toward higher res, but the big issue is ultimately still royalty payouts. They’re incredibly low.

I’m going to go somewhere a little cheesy, but we’ve got a lot of aspiring indie label owners who check out the site regularly. What advice would you give to someone just starting out, like you were with FBR a handful of years ago?

MJC: There are more labels than people in the world [laughs]. I honestly was gonna say, “just don’t do it.” But that’s a dumb thing to say.

Look, running a record label is really hard work and there is not a big payoff if one is looking to get rich. It was not until 2016 that we were finally able to say we were in the black and able to fund future releases with sales. It took a couple of years and money was spent as we do a lot of physical releases. Things feel good now, thankfully, but I guess I would ask myself a few questions before making the decision to start a label:

1) Am I willing to struggle and work thanklessly for 10-16 hours a day, and even be working when I am not actually “working?”
2) Am I willing to put my own art aside in order to have the time to start things out properly?
3) Am I OK with rejection?
4) Am I OK if someone decides to fuck me over, will I maintain?
5) If things pick up, do I mind living at the post office and dealing with all the angry people behind me in line as well as irate postal workers?
6) Am I good dealing with a variety of personalities?
7) Am I cool with doing nine things at once all the time?
8) Will I reply in a timely manner to emails, texts and phone calls that come in all day?
9) Am I willing to take risks?
10) Am I willing to support other artists and labels?

I think if one answers “yes” to these ten questions, this could be for you. Or just do what I did, make a bad decision because music is life, and we are all gonna die so fuck it.

EN: Could you ever see yourself doing anything else, is is music where your heart is forever? As far as your main passion and focus in life, I mean.

MJC: Nah, I could never do anything else at this point. Seriously, I mean… I am gonna be 40 in a couple weeks. I never intended this, even though music has been a dominant force in my life as far back as I can remember. I went to university. I actually worked as a psychotherapist and administrator for both the public and private mental health systems for years. At the end I was seeing so many people die, and not improve due to bad policy and greed, so I quit. At that time it was to attempt getting back into writing and releasing on other labels. The experience was frustrating because I was being asked to make the same type of music I was making 10 years ago, so I went off on my own. Hence, FilthyBroke Recordings.

EN: Now onto something a little more current. You’ve got a compilation album coming out soon to benefit an anti-bullying organization. When and why did you decide to put this project together?

MJC: I will be totally honest: First off, I feel like we are currently dealing with the biggest bully in the world tearing people apart, dividing people. It is disgusting and sickening and even as a straight white man I am unable to process or accept what is happening. Secondly, I was relentlessly bullied as a kid. I moved when I was nine and was “the new kid.” Being beaten and laughed at without any intervention from those that were supposed to protect me has never left me, and it never will. I am not happy much of he time, often hate myself, and feel like no one actually cares about me sometimes. I know this not to be true in my head, but occasionally my gut says otherwise. I do not like seeing people hurting. I do not like the vulnerable being taken advantage of. I do not approve of bullying in any way, it ruins people. Donald Trump is a fucking bully. There are 70-year old women being detained in airports, as we speak, in 2017. Just no.

I’m not very good at many things, but this is a very serious and personal issue to me. The response to the compilation has been overwhelming, I am shocked. I feel like this may be an issue important to other people as well, thus we just want to donate all proceeds to Ditch the Label.

EN: As someone who also went through a lot of hellish bullying as a kid, I really respect and think it’s wonderful that you’ve taken the initiative. Seeing the response even from the outside has been touching to say the least. Do you see a lot of merit in music being used as a fundraiser? It seems like a really cool way to raise awareness and funds.

MJC: I do see a lot of merit in it, especially in that using art to raise money also raises awareness in and of itself… Like, the “product” that facilitates an ability to donate is music; music on its own is very powerful and certainly can deliver a message singularly. Just seemed so easy to try to do the compilation. Like you said though? About the response? People came out of the woodwork, no ego all positivity. People that I never would have thought of approaching… They seemed “out of my league” and I woke up to an inbox of songs donated from these amazing people. Mostly unsolicited aside from my tweet about wanting to do it. Some people give a fuck I guess, and that’s just amazing to me.

EN: I’m happy that it took off – I suggest to all of our readers to check this thing out when it drops, and support it if you can. We’re at about length. Is there anything else you’d like to say as we wrap this bad-boy up?

MJC: Just thank you for the best interview I have ever been a part of, for real. I needed that, thank you Dustin.

EN: Cheers, man. We’ll do another one for sure. You’ve got so much experience and insight into the music world that it’d be criminal for me to not have you on again.

MJC: Anytime.

Lightning Pill Discusses Experimental Music, Helping the Community Feel Heard, LGBT-music relations, and More

by Dustin

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Sometimes you stumble across an artist that just has an aura about them that instantly signals they work on another level compared to most. Maybe they’re involved in social causes, maybe they’re workaholics, maybe they’re incredibly mentally dedicated to their craft and community, or maybe they’re all of the above. Such is this case with Lightning Pill. From experimental music crafting, to making sure others don’t feel left out in the cold, Lightning Pill is a lot of things to the do-it-yourself music community. We’ve been aware of his work for a while, and thanks to an introduction by IHeartNoise we’re able to provide an insight into the mind of one of the hardest working individuals you’ll ever have the chance to know.

Lightning Pill can be found on his Twitter, and website. His blog (mentioned in the interview) can be found at Revenge of the Persona Non Grata, and also at its official Twitter. Be sure to give him a look after you’ve finished reading this interview!

EN: First and foremost man, thank you for joining us today. It’s an absolute pleasure. I’ve interviewed quite a few musicians, and I always love working with those who are socially conscious.

That being said, for those reading who may be unaware of you, how would you describe yourself?

Lightning Pill: I am a singer-songwriter who mainly plays keyboard. I take on multiple genres, all which fit underneath bedroom pop, antifolk, etc. I also make beats every now and then. On my downtime, I blog for Afropunk, IHeartNoise and Revenge of the Persona Non Grata, a blog I began focusing on avant-garde/DIY Hip hop, r&b, jazz and electronica.

I also write poems every now and then, but nowadays, poetry is molded into song.

EN: Did being a DIY artist yourself inspire an ambition to write about those forging a similar path musically?

Lightning Pill: Yes. Very much so. I’ve been in the music-making game for years, and found a correlation between most great DIY artists. They want Pitchfork and SPIN coverage and find themselves ignored despite putting out great work. I literally spent all year finding new music through Twitter recommendations and affiliations because, I wasn’t exactly messing with the recommendations of bigger labels. I understood the need to be on bigger platforms, but you don’t need to do that with blogs such as Afropunk helping.

The second album I put out to Afropunk as a DIY artist was Humanbeyondrepair, an album about having Asperger’s Syndrome. I didn’t have the money to tour, didn’t have a huge following, no labels, and so on, but they covered me. I wished more blogs would do that rather than creaming over the same bands they will slag on later.

Twitter is chock full of original musicians and small labels who want to spread their name with no real help from larger platforms. Since they are what I am, I can’t in good conscience make them feel like no one is paying attention. So, I started RPNG. Really it started as a blog for avant-hop, since there wasn’t a huge niche blog for that. Then it expanded into me giving love to smaller acts trying to get on 2DopeBoyz, Pitchfork or Consequence of Sound.

EN: That’s very similar to the reasoning why I started Extraordinary Nobodies. I really respect that at a personal level, but I have to ask: why do you think it is that major outlets turn their ears off to experimental and DIY music?

Lightning Pill: It feels related as why major labels sign experimental acts: if you are engaging, accessible and at least sound like you have a chance in hell in the mainstream or something, then you are “in”. That’s bullshit too, considering that there are some great acts that do have a fighting chance at connecting with the general public.

It feels like going to high school and the “cool kids” either ignore or bully the weirder kids, only to find that they envy them. Acts like SassyBlack (formerly of THEESatisfaction), and even AJ Suede, can’t be found on 2DopeBoyz even though the music has a chance of reaching the public. Only one clipping. song can be found there, too. People are likely to turn a blind eye to artists that don’t have a huge following, and you get a huge following through either celebrity-based nepotism or “accessibility” within the industry.

Perfect examples are rappers and singers within Deathbomb Arc, one of my favorite labels. Excluding clipping., rappers like Signor Benedick, Hareld and They Hate Change don’t get the attention they worked for in their fields despite being really original and talented artists. They deserve to be known in the same corner as Death Grips and Kendrick Lamar. I had to take matters into my hands and write about They Hate Change and True Neutral Crew in Afropunk. Their coverage would probably still be fairly minuscule, if they hadn’t known that I write for them.

EN: Are there any other acts out there that you especially think aren’t getting the attention they deserve, or is it basically the DIY/experimental community as a whole that’s being ignored?

Lightning Pill: It’s a funny thing. If they do get coverage, TheNeedleDrop and Pitchfork are the ones doing it. Still though, a good amounts of the DIY community pretty much live by their wits. Artists like DijahSB got into music and despite how great her music is I don’t even see Aftopunk covering her, and I sent in a blog about her Blue album.

EN: So, running your own publication very much came out of a place of frustration.

Lightning Pill: It started as a way to fill in the niche that 2DopeBoyz and XXL didn’t, couldn’t or won’t touch. It snowballed into a frustration that I shared with artists over making great music but not getting attention despite how “great” they are. This inspired me to take the reins, and I encourage many others to use the blog as a way to give back to your community. The moment I started the blog, I had plenty of artists say they loved my writing. JPEGMAFIA even said my kind of journalism and research rivals that of empty journalists and music critics today, which made me happy. I’ve even had plenty of people approach me to write something for them. I had no right to turn them down because I was, and still am, them.

Type in THEESatisfaction, milo, F. Virtue, Cakes Da Killa, or clipping. in 2DopeBoyz and watch it come up with nothing. The only real explanation I can find is that their blog mostly focuses on artists who aren’t too experimental, as to gain a huge following.

While I am here, I do want to shout out one slightly well-known blog that does what I do: UGSMAG. They cover nothing but that underground shit. Some avantgarde stuff, too. That blog, and the dearly-missed Potholes in My Blog, inspired me to write the blogs I do.

EN: Do you find it difficult to balance your personal life, music, and working on other projects such as journalism?

Lightning Pill: Only because when I get into these projects, I REALLY get into it. When I write about projects, I listen to 5 albums a day. After that, I find myself wondering when I’ll have enough juice and focus to put into my music. When I do music, I get really into it too. It gets hard because I don’t do any of this to merely half-ass it. I’m in it for the long haul… Even if I don’t get paid for doing any of it. That’s how committed I am to what I do. As for my personal life, people know good and well I don’t sit on my bed and do nothing. I’m always working on something to occupy my time. Whether it be hobby or not, I do it because I find fulfillment in it.

Admittedly, it does get hard making sure that when I am head deep in one thing, I don’t neglect the other.

EN: Throughout the year I saw you getting a lot of love from various outlets and labels, such as Deathbomb Arc for instance. How much does it mean to you to know that what you’re doing is being noticed?

Lightning Pill: Man, it means a lot! Imagine years of making music only to find out that I’ve got fans purely from being deep into the underground. This wouldn’t have been possible without Ilya of IHeartNoise, who heard me and has been hyping up my instrumental works, mostly. But since I started pushing everything, not one person has told me my stuff sucked. One dude did, but that was on a couple of fun bars over Jonwayne beats that got a lot of attention, and got me followed by Jonwayne himself.

The Deathbomb Arc thing had me taken aback because I’m a big supporter of the label. The reason being that Deathbomb is one of few labels that aim to surprise you with every artist they add to their roster. So when they asked me about doing a song for them, I was like “what?!”.

I have fans in Ceschi, Dionne Sheree, Ilya, They Hate Change, and plenty in the DIY/experimental (mostly hip hop) community. I feel blessed and it makes me want to work hard to see to it my next few albums and mixtapes don’t suck.

EN: On that note, do you think more artists need to take a second to step back and enjoy the small scale love they receive, rather than desperately trying to “make it big”?

Lightning Pill: In a short answer, yes.

In a long answer, I understand why people want to get big. They do it for money, for attention, to reach people and change the landscape of music. Everyone has reasons as to why they want to get famous. But even if I don’t ever reach the stratosphere, it’s still heartening to know I have a cult following. I do music everyday and never get paid, but it makes me want to keep going knowing people are waiting for my next work.

I was one of those people who wanted to do music to get paid for it. But the more I made music the more I slowly accepted I may never get paid, or that I may never get known to the level that, say, Atmosphere is. But even having a little fans may give me a new perspective. Perhaps making music for them will lead to them spreading the word and finding out that my music can get better and reach people who aren’t just blindly following me. Some people will become Jay-Z and Lil Wayne and some people will be Atmosphere and Run the Jewels. Either way, just knowing one person loves your work is heartening. All one has to do is keep going and keep making your best stuff, keep trying to one up yourself and watch people slowly reveal that they have been a fan of yours.

I think in time I understand why people say that knowing people love your work and are waiting for the next one is better than money. Often times, if people really love and support you, they’ll pay for it when it is for sale. I’d be just fine being the next Ariel Pink, Dam-Funk or Captain Beefheart. People should take any blessing that may come their way in the form of true love and appreciation for what you do.

EN: I noticed on the RPNG Twitter, you note things such as being a LGBT friendly site. I think that is awesome, and I wanted to ask how important it is to you to be open in your support of such causes?

Lightning Pill: Very much so, seeing as how there are a lot of gay rappers in existence. One of the first I found back in high school was Deep Dickollective, helmed by Juba Kalamka. Their music is basically conscious hip hop from a gay man’s point of view. Since then, I found rappers like Melange Lavonne, God-Des and She, and more recently Cakes Da Killa, LE1F, Mykki Blanco, Abdu Ali and F. Virtue. All of them are getting shunned from larger hip hop for being gay, and hardly ever pushed towards a straight demographic. They are part of the reason why I stretched my blog towards people who just plain can’t get bigger attention over stupid shit.

I read in SPIN Magazine that Juba heard some sites pull the “there’s nothing we can do” stance for making gay music more mainstream… To this day, the only gay rapper the world can even mention is Frank Ocean, who only spit a few bars on a few songs.

It’s very important to notice all dimensions of music in general. People need to stop being brand new about rappers just because it doesn’t fit their universe. I just told Cakes Da Killa, “people would rather hear some mediocre ass dude spit bars than to hear you rap. That should change!” That stemmed from me praising clipping. for having Cakes Da Killa on a track, and working with an actual gay rapper. I couldn’t give less of a single fuck about a person’s sexuality. If you got true bars and can stand out musically, fuck everything else.

I cover LGBT rappers, Christian rappers, anyone who can bring something truly fresh to the table.

EN: Do you think that someone like Fly Young Red, who basically turned the gay rap scene into a meme with “boy pussy” did more harm than good for the LGBT community in hip-hop?

Lightning Pill: Eh… I think we should be past the whole “harm and good thing”, seeing as how there are multiple dimensions of anything LGBT. Where there are people who make gay people look hypersexual, there are people putting a good name on it. It’s the same as black people showing they have respect and intelligence among ratchets thinking they are acting white.

Of course it is doing “harm” as it is showing gay people as hypersexual, rather than people who have more to talk about than just that. You know? But, the same can be said about demands that Nicki Minaj and Rhianna be less aggressive with sexuality in their music. They are doing nothing more than being a mirror for the culture we live in. The only difference is straight people make AIDS and femininity jokes, while giving or getting AIDS from the next girl with a fat ass and a pretty face. Where there is a Fly Young Red, there’s a Cupcakke or multiple amounts of dudes talking about running a train on your girlfriend.

That’s just the way it is, but the ones who have yet to see it that way are straight people.

EN: That’s a great approach to conceptualizing it. My cousin (who is big into LGBT activism, with her girlfriend) has already remained conflicted on people like Fly Young Red, so I thought it’d be interesting to get another perspective.

I’m also very curious on your thoughts about hyper-masculinity in hip-hop. I interviewed Kash Jordan last year, and he really wanted to see hip-hop move away from the trend of hyper-masculine music. Do you share that sort of view?

Lightning Pill: Yeah, and as fast as possible. Back in the day, they said hip hop was for the outsiders and hip hop is revolutionary. If that’s true, then why are all these masculine-ass drunk dudes with guns taking over the game? At the end of the day to me, they are more rap than hip hop. The difference between the two is like the difference between rock, alternative, and punk.

Hyper-masculinity is doing a lot of harm, in that it is controlling the idea that men don’t have feelings. We are hyper-violent, hyper-sexual ne’er do wells with hella masculinity problems anyway. Even worse, some people encourage this shit. I thank God for Kash Jordan and Young Thug aiming to tear that shit down, because hyper-masculinity is a fucking facade. All the way. Show me a man who flexes their manhood like diamonds, and I’ll show you a weak dude who probably wishes he was as brave as LGBT types and hides insecurity with a gun or an equally masculine girlfriend. Or show me a dude who talks shit to other rappers, and you’ll see a woman revealing him to be a “fingerinthebootyassbitch”.

Hyper-masculinity is stupid because it denies that men have a feminine side, which they do. Everyone has a little bit of something. Every man has a bit of femininity and every woman has a bit of masculinity. Point blank! It’s just a matter of when you bring it out, at what time, for what. You know? It gets dangerous, if not tricky, when there’s a clear imbalance of the two, but what can one do about that? You know?

EN: Yeah, I get what you mean – in a lot of ways it seems like hip-hop as a whole is going through a bit of an identity crisis, don’t you think? Like, there’s the hyper-masculine old guard, then this new wave struggling (but trying) to break that binary but facing resistance.

Lightning Pill: It is, but it is necessary. They say music dies when you put out the same shit and things get hella stale… Actually, I wouldn’t call it an identity crisis. Maybe an exploration to see all of what hip hop and rap can actually be and do. It’s a revelation of different dimensions of hip hop that was mostly just banished to the underground. It’s intriguing, and long overdue.

EN: That brings me to my next question, what is your biggest gripe with hip-hop currently? Is it the hyper-masculine environment, or something else?

Lightning Pill: My frustration with hip-hop mostly lies in people’s thought that hip-hop should be one-sided, hypocritical and ignorant of their influence. The same people who admit being influenced by Biggie and Tupac are the same dudes who say that their music is “just music” when they get called out on their ignorance. Anytime these people say they don’t want to be role models, I respect that; but, if they didn’t want to be role models, then they should never have gotten famous… Where everyone can see them and learn from them.

Wherever there’s a person just trying to get a check, there are a group of kids on the bus talking about “smoking dicks”. And the parents only care when there’s music that disturbs the general idea of how society is. They are no less ignorant than anyone else. To them, mainstream music is the only music there is, until someone busts out a hip-hop album that’s better and possibly more revolutionary. The trouble with mainstream rap is that people always think “this is how it is”, and that’s bullshit. There is always more to the world than what people see… Or maybe their ignorance is willful. Either way, I hate that hip-hop wants to use their ignorance as a crutch for why some of them just want to make money and don’t want their music to do anything else. Once you are on the Billboard, you are a fucking role model to someone! Deal with it!

Also, I am not entirely comfortable that entertainment has an upper hand over education at times because of how catchy and gripping the music is. People think all you got to do in music is make hits about what you know and don’t know, but how many of them even know how to play an instrument? How many of them studied the music business to figure out how to get ahead other than just making hits? Kids are like sponges. They learn from artists because in their eyes, artists and entertainers are more intriguing. That’s their escape, and it eventually turns into their education whether they believe it or not. So, when something like hyper-masculinity is a thing, more men are being taught that that is what being a man is. We both know that is absolute bullshit and a complete detriment to their sense of humanity.

EN: It sounds a lot like you want prominent musicians to realize that they’re role models and use that elevated status more wisely.

Lightning Pill: Do they have a choice? They are literally in the face of the general public. Men, women and children of all ages, sexes and creeds see them. They don’t have to completely change themselves, but if that’s what they want to maintain, then they have the option of embracing the private life of others. Hell, they could be underground where you can be anything or anyone and nobody can censor you. Hell, Cupcakke is a rapper who has turned down a LOT of record label offers to do it herself, which might afford her some lowkey privacy compared to much bigger types. As soon as you are eligible for Teen Choice Awards, you should expect eyes on you. Not just in terms of fame, but in having loyal “followers” in every sense of the word. It is inevitable and raging against it would be hella useless.

Though, I wouldn’t have minded much if Cupcakke went bigger because I predict her time infront of the spotlight will be spent offering something for the kids as well as adults.

EN: So, transitioning to something a little more about you as an artist. What can we expect from you in the coming year both musically and otherwise?

Lightning Pill: I have been told multiple times to never tell people things before they are done, or before they happen… But, I have two albums and a long mixtape coming up next year. The long mixtape is called Cincuenta, which I can say is my only truly guaranteed project. The rest might fall to the wayside if I lose motivation and seek to do other things musically. But Cincuenta is a yes for next year.

As for performances? I am working on performing more, and maybe testing out Concert Window or my own YouTube concert inspired by Couch by Couchwest.

EN: I like that you’re always trying innovative things like the concept of a YouTube concert. Have you ever released any physical copies of your music? If not, do you plan to?

Lightning Pill: I haven’t. I wish I had the funds to construct physical stuff. I’m still trying to find labels interested in releasing either cassettes or CDs. For now, it all remains digital. Though, I recently talked to Become Eternal, and if all goes well, they will make cassettes of my old ambient work. So, stay tuned there!

EN: A bit of a random question here, but my curiosity is eating me alive. Where’d you get the name Lightning Pill, and what’s the meaning behind it?

Lightning Pill: I have two explanations for this, both of which actually fit. One day I was walking home listening to Patrick Wolf’s The Magic Position, this whole time I pictured him as this glam folktronic figure. I was already trying to work out a sound that’s like folk music using electronic instruments, as opposed to using electronic instruments to manipulate the sound of folk instruments. I have a tendency to put myself in artist’s shoes to keep my imagination going, and I named myself Lightning Pill.

I thought about it a little further another day when I remembered seeing a cartoon where all of the farm animals ate the pills that were supposed to control the weather. If an animal ate a sunny pill, the sun shines out of your stomach. If you are a rainy pill, a rain-cloud will constantly follow you. If you ate a thunder and lighting pill, your insides will get shocked.

So, my name is a bit more extroverted than my music is willing to match, but Lightning Pill stuck around longer than Charcoal Sketches of the Invisible Man (a name I was now willing to use when in a band or collaborating with an artist).

EN: Alright my man, we’re basically at length for this interview. So my last question is, is there anyone you’d like to shout-out, and show some love to, to close things off?

Lightning Pill: The most important person I have to shout out is Ilya of IHeartNoise. If it wasn’t for him, who knows if, one, I’d be making music, two, you’d know that I made music and three, I’d be blogging or sticking with the idea of making experimental music. He was the first ever person who had not only been blogging about my music, but actually championed and listened to my work. Not to mention, on Twitter, he constantly shouts me out to people looking for new music, new writers and all of that. Without that, who knows if you’d be here talking to me. Who knows if I would be getting as much blessings as I do now?

I’d also like to thank those who have listened to my music, read my tweets, and checked out any recommendations I had sent their way. I’m doing my very best not to let anyone down. It’s a hard process, but I didn’t adopt a workaholic persona for nothing. Thank you to all reading.

Top 15 albums of 2016

by Dustin

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Ah, 2016 is nearing a close, which means we get to do some reflection. Like every other music blog on the internet, this means we’ve decided to put together a top albums list. It helps us ignore the fact that we’ve completely run out of article ideas for the time being, and hopefully helps distract you from the festering pile of manure that has been 2016. This list is also not limited to hip-hop, which I’m sure is confusing. Now, grab yourself a bowl of popcorn and dig into the list that’s almost certain to make you feel some degree of outrage.

Also, thank you to everyone who has supported us this year. As much as we tend to be a cynical bunch at times, it truly means a lot. You could even say that we love you… In the platonic sense, of course.

15. The Veils – Total Depravity
Total Depravity was a very interesting alternative rock release for many reasons, among those being the groups collaboration throughout with independent hip-hop mainstay El-P. At the very least this would have been an incredibly solid alt-rock album, but the odd touches of hip-hop and electronic influence made it something really unique. It feels a bit inconsistent at times, but Finn Andrews’ and company brought a performance more than worth the purchase.

14. Mr. Lif – Don’t Look Down
It’s always special to see one of the old Definitive Jux crew doing something great years after the label stopped operating; moreover, it was really awesome to see Mr. Lif return to the rap scene after nearly seven years to delivery an incredibly solid album. Don’t Look Down was thoughtful, well written, and felt like a modern update to the underground sound Definitive Jux spent so many years dominating.

13. DIIV – Is The Is Are
Is The Is Are proved to be quite the step up from the alternative rock group DIIV. Though it certainly has moments that felt like they fell a little short (mostly the singles), and perhaps could have used some trimming, Is The Is Are was a wonderful album. The dreamy, reverbed out, sound was equally addictive and catchy. Don’t be surprised if you feel like you’re melting while listening, because it sounds like melting. Does that make sense? No? Okay… Moving on.

12. BADBADNOTGOOD – IV
The fourth BADBADNOTGOOD release may be a little more commercial than their previous efforts, but it also has some of their most engaging and accessible material. It should be noted, however, that the group managed to stay grounded in their roots on IV. The sound evolution is notable, but they didn’t lose themselves. The features on the album all did a really wonderful job, as well, with artists such as Mick Jenkins and Sam Herring providing vocal relief from pure instrumentation.

11. Open Mike Eagle & Paul White – Hella Personal Film Festival
Admittedly, our review on this album didn’t paint it as brightly as it should have. Hella Personal Film Festival turned out to the the type of album that took some time to fully sink in. Perhaps it was Mike’s calmer demeanor, or maybe it was the slightly different production provided by Paul White. Either way, Hella Personal Film Festival was a stunningly relatable album. Mike Eagle resumed his role as rap’s most down-to-earth everyman while gliding with ease over the off-kilter production. Hella Personal Film Festival lacked some of the catchy standouts like some of Mike’s other material, but as a whole it may be his most solid release to date.

10. Koi Child – Koi Child
This Australian hip-hop and jazz band brought one of the most engaging listens of the year with their self-titled debut. Recorded on a remote island, Koi Child’s use of live instrumentation and energetic vocals created an incredible atmosphere. Though the album may not be as socially rooted, it seemed to take a similar approach to music as a group like The Roots. Oh, and Tame Impala’s Kevin Parker executive produced it, so there’s also that.

9. Aesop Rock – The Impossible Kid
Aesop is notorious for hiding his true meaning deep within extended wordplay and a massive vocabulary, but The Impossible Kid saw him take a step back to allow us into the more personal aspects of his life. This album proved to be one of his most accessible, emotional, and at times humorous releases in his discography. It almost seemed to have given him new breath as an rapper. The production was also very good, particularly the rock inspired drum work.

8. Russian Circles – Guidance
Russian Circles have always suffered a bit from inconsistency with their albums, but Guidance felt like them at their very best. This album was ruthless, hard hitting, and incredibly dense. Any shortcomings from the band’s previous efforts seem to have been corrected, and what’s left is a beautiful post-metal album with ample replay value. Prepare to have your mind melted by something new every time you revisit Guidance.

7. clipping. – Splendor & Misery
Coming in at the sixth spot on this list is clipping. with their “space slave opera” album, Splendor & Misery. The experimental rap trio certainly put out their best and most consistent work with this effort. The story on the album was concise, and supplemented flawlessly with their harsh, noisy, and space inspired instrumentals.

6. Ka – Honor Killed the Samurai
Ka is very much an underrated gem within hip-hop with his incredibly consistent discography. Honing his distinct chamber rap style, he pushed himself even further with this year’s Honor Killed the Samurai. This album was the dose of penmanship many have been craving, and the stripped back instrumentals allowed Ka’s vocal performance to be the star of the show.

5. FLANCH – FLANCH
FLANCH was one of those records that came out sounding like nothing before it. It’s a genre breaker in many ways, playing with hip-hop, indie, electronic, noise, and various other genres within its relatively humble running time. The religious and internet-era theme through the tape echoed painfully relatable. FLANCH was a haunting release, and one well worth of being in the top five of the year. For something so impossible to describe it is truly a beautiful work of art.

4. David Bowie – Blackstar
Given the context of this albums release, it seems reasonable to expect that it will be near the top of most album lists for 2016. Unfortunately, what many will fail to talk about is the fact that the music of Blackstar is absolutely gorgeous in its own right. David Bowie didn’t shy away from showing experimental-noise influences on this record, and it paid off wonderfully. Stripping away that context of his death this would still be one of the top albums of the year, and certainly one of Bowie’s best in years. On a blog with less hip-hop focus, this album would probably be closer to the one spot on a year end list. It was that good.

3. A Tribe Called Quest – Thank You for Your Service… We Got it From Here
This is another release where as much can be said about the context as there is about the music itself; however, that shouldn’t take away from the fact that A Tribe Called Quest managed to seamlessly update golden era style into a modern hip-hop classic. There’s not a track that felt out of place on Thank You for Your Service, and the music is paired with an equally impressive message at times. Given that Tribe hadn’t released an album in 18 years, it was absolutely incredible to see them smoothly slide back into hip-hop. Rest in Peace, Phife Dawg.

2. Run the Jewels – Run the Jewels 3
Fortunately due to absolute dumb luck (or possibly laziness), the surprise Christmas release of the much anticipated Run the Jewels 3 didn’t mess up this top albums list. Isn’t that fantastic? It sure is. Anyway, Killer Mike and El-P’s consistency was really given an opportunity to shine on Run the Jewels 3 and they did not disappoint. The third installment from the duo brought 50 minutes of punchy, in your face, bass-heavy, cheeky, and insightful hip-hop. The overall sound is much more similar to El-P’s solo work than the previous Run the Jewels’ albums, but it worked out excellently to craft an album which feels slightly different yet familiar.

1. Danny Brown – Atrocity Exhibition
Honestly, if anyone was going to put out a truly revolutionary sounding hip-hop album it was going to be Danny Brown, and he did. Atrocity Exhibition (borrowing its title from a Joy Division song) is absolutely phenomenal. This album was spacey, unique, and absolutely insane. Atrocity Exhibition felt like a bad drug trip in all the right ways. Once it ends, you feel as if you need to get some fresh air; however, don’t be surprised if you find yourself revisiting this album over and over. Atrocity Exhibition was incredibly disorienting, and catching everything at once felt near impossible. This is a hip-hop album that sounded like nothing else before it, and it truly earned the title of best album in 2016.

Understanding the Necessity and Shortcomings of Music Streaming

by Dustin

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Though streaming hasn’t been a dominant form of music distribution for very long, the idea took root over fifteen years ago with Napster and MusicNET. These services were met with criticism, rejection, and (in the case of Napster) legal issues. Flash forward to today, the service options are different but many of the issues remain the same. However, in the modern era of music, it appears to be that streaming is becoming a necessity.

To understand the need for streaming, one can simply examine the consequences of out right rejecting these services. To speculate on how severe these consequences could be, a simply case study from another industry can be used: Sears.

Sears resisted adapting their catalogue system for far too long. Though the demand for online sales was ever increasing from many loyal consumers, Sears remained set in their ways. This would prove to be a critical failure as the company lost a huge consumer base; moreover, a later attempt to move into the online world would prove futile with the rise of Amazon. Sears had also not exactly been a darling financially, and this failure to adapt proved to be nearly fatal for the company. Over one hundred and twenty Sears stores closed in the year of 2011 alone, and they’ve never quite recovered from the lost business.

Of course this isn’t a perfect comparison for the music industry and streaming. Yet, it illustrates how devastating it can be to ignore the demand for change. Digital sales occupied this space for years, but now the consumers are leaning towards streaming. The music industry as a whole cannot got out of business like a retail chain; however, it can see artists and labels forced into a position where profit is simply not possible if consumer demand isn’t facilitated.

Fortunately, the industry has shown a willingness to adapt before. Whether it be physical media changes, or moving into an online space, music distribution has been fluid. Streaming could also prove to be attractive in its own right.

Streaming offers many advantages for both artists and labels. A 2015 study by Aguiar and Waldfogel (for the European Commission) showed that an increase in streaming correlates to a noticeable drop in music piracy. There is also appeal in how simple it is to get music onto streaming services. For small scale artists, being able to manage their own music on Spotify or Apple Music is often times a simpler process than landing a distribution deal. It has also created a new job space, with online distributors cropping up in order to help musicians get their product to these services.

From the standpoint of the consumer, streaming is a powerhouse. Rather than spending ten dollars for every new release, huge libraries of new and old music are available on demand at a single monthly fee. Audiophiles may take issue with the lack of control over sound quality and song tagging, but for the casual listener streaming services simply makes sense. These services are often incredibly portable, making it far easier to bring your music from desktop to mobile device. As a whole, it is easy to see why streaming is immensely popular with your average listener.

One may wonder why there is still such a resistance to streaming within the music industry, considering these positives. The answer to that is relatively simple: streaming is a necessary, but highly flawed, service.

I gave up and became a Spotify-er,
Paying myself a fraction of a penny playing “Qualifiers”.
(Open Mike Eagle – Dark Comedy Late Show)

Even though streaming has reduced piracy rates, it has also negatively impacted digital download sales (such as those provided by iTunes and Bandcamp). This ultimately reduces the positive impact it has on the music industry; moreover, this is a genuine issue due to the minuscule payout received by artists and labels per stream. Until the problem of royalties can be sorted, music streaming is going to be a somewhat problematic service.

There are of course other issues, such as fragmenting subscribers with service-specific exclusives. Perhaps the most prevalent cases of this was Kanye West’s The Life of Pablo fiasco. The album experienced abnormally high piracy rates due to its chaotic and exclusive release through the Tidal streaming service. Exclusives are certainly an interesting way to attempt to attract new subscribers, unfortunately it also seems harmful to the long term viability of streaming.

Spotify, Apple Music, Tidal, and Google Play give music an accessibility that the world has never seen before. It stands to reason that there will be kinks to work out along the way. Though it’s been close to fifteen years since the idea of streaming started gaining traction, we still exist in the early years of services attempting to do things legally. One can see the clear benefits and necessity of streaming services, but it appears that it will still be a while longer before they are agreeable for everyone.

The Media That Refuses to Die: Cassette

by Dustin

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“What is that?” my buddy asks as I pull another parcel from the mailbox, “don’t tell me you’re still collecting music”.

You see, my friend doesn’t quite understand the point of collecting physical media when it comes to music. He sees CDs and vinyl as a waste of money when I’ve already got a Spotify subscription. The argument that I want better sound quality usually shuts him up, since streaming can be questionable at times in that regard.

Unfortunately that argument will not work with this shipment.

My friend remains interested as I rip apart the yellow envelope from Darling Recordings. I explained to him that the album is by a really cool experimental group called FLANCH. He seems interested in the sound and implies that he would like to listen to it once I finish my painfully slow unwrap job; however, his interest turns to confusion as I reveal the contents of the envelope.

He looks at me and his face screws up into an indescribable expression. In a moment of baffled realization he asks the question, “is that a fucking cassette?”

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Though this may sound ridiculous to some, cassette has seen a huge resurgence in the past couple years via the independent scene. The companies which produce cassette tapes are reportedly having their best years since the 1960s. For example, the National Audio Company reportedly produced over ten million cassettes in 2014 alone. For something once considered defunct this is a huge comeback, and it is almost rooted entirely in the independent music scene.

But why? To help answer that question we touched base with Nick Faidley. Nick is the founder of independent label Darling Recordings, an outfit which has released multiple cassettes (including FLANCH, mentioned earlier in this article). He offered up the following insight as to why cassettes have seen such a heavy revival:

Darling Recordings has turned to tapes for the many of the same reasons as other independent labels and musicians: cassettes are low cost, low hassle, and easy for bands to use on the merch table. For us it’s really that simple. Tapes are affordable at low quantities, unlike vinyl (incredibly expensive) and CDs (large minimum orders), and they can be completely DIY.

Darling runs its cassette manufacturing with a wonderful company out of Ohio called A to Z Audio.

As Nick stated, cost is a huge factor. Unlike major outfits, most independent labels only do limited releases for physical editions of records. These are generally in the 20-100 copies range. The price per unit for limited runs is cheaper on cassette than any other physical media; moreover, a price per unit quote (on a 100 album order) from a Canadian duplication company shows that the difference is extreme:

CD with Jewel Case and Insert: $4.90/each
Vinyl Record with Colour Cover: $9.00/each
Cassette with Clear Case and J-Card Insert: $1.85/each

Cassette is the clear cut choice based on cost alone, and for small independent labels every dollar counts. Perhaps physical media is no longer a necessity with the rise of digital distribution, but fans will always be looking to get their hands on merch. Cassettes are a cost effective way to provide this to fans (whether it be online, in a record store, or at a show). In addition to it being good for the label, cassette releases are generally cheaper for the consumer as well. It’s very much a win-win for those interested.

Though more subjective, there’s also a collectible feel to cassettes that seems to offer up a lot of appeal. There’s certainly a degree of nostalgia involved to a particular generation, but to others they just seem “cool”. They’re just so much different when compared to CDs and vinyl. Cassettes have a particular minimalistic and rugged appearance that seems to draw a certain crowd in. Even the listening experience, though maybe not the best in terms of sound quality, is incredibly unique. The tape hiss, the sound of the cassette deck mechanism, the sudden jarring click when a side runs out…

It’s something that can’t really be compared to anything other music media, for better or worse.

Interestingly, this wave of cassette revival has become big enough that some major labels have started to jump on the bandwagon. A recent example of this is Shady Records re-issuing Eminem’s major imprint debut, The Slim Shady LP, on a translucent purple cassette. To no ones surprise, the re-issue was incredibly popular. It doesn’t seem like this will be a regular trend such as vinyl releases, but it definitely speaks to the size of cassettes resurgence.

For all intents and purposes cassette should be dead, but it’s not. They’ve found their way back into the music scene by carving a niche which no other media can really occupy. What cassette lacks in sound quality it more than makes up for in affordability, making them the ultimate budget merchandise. It’s a revival that maybe no one expected, but it’s working out beautifully for artists around the globe.

So, the next time you see a cassette just remember: your uncle who owns a Mustang from the 1980s with a tape-deck isn’t the only person looking to buy cassettes anymore.

East Coast Rapper MCrv Discusses Life as a Working Class Hip-Hop Artist

by Dustin

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The east coast has been a powerhouse in rap for as long as the genre is old. Under the surface, the east coast has developed some of the most unique underground acts of all time. Of these, Definitive Jux was one of the most notable throughout the 2000s. Lead by independent hip-hop star El-P, the Jux crew was consistently putting out their unique brand of experimental east coast rap.

Nearly seven years after the label was put on indefinite hiatus, those influenced by Definitive Jux are starting to find their own voice in hip-hop. MCrv is one of these rappers. A student of the independent hip-hop scene, MCrv spoke with us on life as a working class rapper, balancing family life, and how he sees his own music.

Read the interview below, and then go ahead and check out MCrv on Twitter, Bandcamp, and Facebook.

EN: I figure we should probably start with the basics to help people learn about you as an artist, if that’s okay with you. How long ago was it that you started rapping, and how did you get interested in it?

MCrv: I started rapping when I was about 15. I’m 25 now… So, ten years I guess. I didn’t really take it serious until I was 20 or 21. It was just for fun with two friends of mine, Dan and Tony. We we bored teenagers, [and] I was like: “lets make a rap song”.

Dan played drums, Tony did bass, and I rapped. They were [just] dumb songs about high school and partying. we stopped after five six songs until I turned 17 and a friend gave me a copy of Hell’s Winter and Labor days and I found out these dudes were making music themselves and rapping about all sorts of shit. I was fascinated. So my senior year of high school (2008-2009) I started learning how to use GarageBand and [my keyboard], and writing lyrics. And [I was also] discovering more artists on Definitive Jux and Rhymesayers, and anyone they collaborated with.

Some of my first ideas were made at the school computers in Manville High. Once I learned I could record at home, I was obsessed with saving for my own studio. [However], before I graduated I got into some trouble with my parents about abusing prescription pills. I left my parents house moved in with my grandparents because there was so much tension; everyone thought I had addiction problems. It was more experimental, but it didn’t matter [because] I broke their trust… It was hard after high school. I ended up doing out-patient rehab before I left New Jersey, and learned a lot about addicts. [I] realized I had potential to end up down that road, but never had the desire.

While all this drama was going on I kept [trying] ideas on my Yamaha keyboard, and recording vocals in Audacity with a ten dollar mic. I would record my beats off the keyboard speakers into Audacity then record my vocals [to] hear my ideas.

Some time went by and I decided to move to New York state with some family after living in New Jersey for 18 years. [Mostly] to start fresh and find some solid ground, since things were rough with my immediate family. I got a job and stayed focused on saving money. Within a year I saved enough money to buy myself an iMac and Pro Tools! I also picked up an Axiom 49 and I started to teach myself how to record using Pro Tools when I was about 19.

EN: That’s pretty crazy, so now have you got yourself a little home-studio setup? I noticed listening to your tape that it was super clean quality wise, moreso than I notice from a lot of rappers on the do-it-yourself path.

MCrv: Yeah, I have my own set up at home, and thank you. I’ve worked really hard to show progress in the quality of my music. My set up is realy simple: two monitors, an interface, an Axiom 49, and I switched recently from Pro Tools to Logic which has been great. I have a mic that I record my rough vocals on at home, but for all my final vocal tracks and final mixing I go to my friend Jim Servedio at his home studio and he puts his ears and hands in… He actually sold me my equipment when I moved to New York six years ago, and he’s been helping me with my mixes and recording ever since. [Jim] has been working with music and studios for almost 30 years, and we have a natural chemistry in the studio as far as what we are looking for sound wise. It hasn’t been easy, but he’s been patient and has allowed me to grow at my own pace.

EN: It’s great you’ve got a bit of a mentor in that regard though; to me, it seems like audio quality holds back a lot of young artists. You’ve already surpassed that hurdle. Moving onto influences for a moment, I remember when I first messaged you we talked about Colors and Sounds having a bit of an early Definitive Jux sound. You kind of came up on artists from that era and roster, correct?

MCrv: I’m [just] really lucky to have Jim. He has helped me so much… I don’t think I would know as much about the actual process of music making if it weren’t for him.

Yeah, I feel like I got really into it all when None Shall Pass, I’ll Sleep When You’re Dead and Depart From Me were still fresh. People started realizing there was more to underground rap than what they previously thought. At least that was my take [on it].

EN: Man, you had to go and name drop I’ll Sleep When You’re Dead haha. That’s my favorite album of all time, by far. It got me through a really rough period in life. Anyway, more to the point. You’ve definitely got influences, but your style is very much your own. Is it important for you to develop a unique sound for yourself?

MCrv: That album helped me a lot too! [Particularly] during my teen years and early twenties. “The Overly Dramatic Truth” [off I’ll Sleep When You’re Dead] still brings me back to those feelings.

And yeah, it is very important for me to have a unique sound for myself. That’s what drew me to Def Jux so much. Each dude had their own style [and] their own niche that I could get lost in and appreciate. I study those things, and have found what I like in myself. I [try to] bring [that] out in my music, and find my own signature traits that make MCrv, MCrv.

I still find it fascinating that you were able to dissect my influences based on my music, because anyone who knows me, like my close friends, if you asked [them] “what rapper or label does mcrv appreciate?”, they would say Aesop Rock, Def Jux, or Rhymesayers [laughs].

EN: Ah man, when I heard it the first time I was like this dudes got a super unique sound but at the same time there’s a flavor to this music that I recognize. So I spun it again, and then put on Bazooka Tooth I think and I was like holy shit, he sounds like he could have been a Def Jukie back in the day [laughs].

MCrv: Dude, thats crazy! I told myself when I made Colors and Sounds that this was my Bazooka Tooth [laughs].

EN: Then at that point, because that’s where my music tastes are pretty firmly I needed to talk to you for the site [laughs]. Like, I feel that even though Def Jux was pretty big, you don’t see a lot of the new generation building on that sound. (even thought the indie scene is strong as ever). Would you agree?

MCrv: I would totally agree. I feel I hear a lot of underground and commercial elements mixed together in a lot of the new generation stuff. I feel like there is a lot of risk in the music those [Def Jux] artists put out. There is meaning in their every sound and word. The messages and subject matters are like nothing any other artists have touched. There is a very peculiar way they’ve made music that I really don’t hear in others.

EN: I guess you’re somewhat of a revivalist in that way then, because it feels like that era ended so abruptly [laughs]. So tell me a bit about the process of your album, how long did you work on it and such?

MCrv: [Laughs] That’s a sweet thought… Trust me, I would love to see that label shine through again. I’m no savior though, I just know who I have to pay my respects to because those dudes showed me life pretty much… They taught me about life.

I worked on Colors and Sounds for about a year. I recorded everything at home… I made all the beats first and then wrote each song. [I] rehearsed them at home, and once I knew them well enough I took them to Jims house. We mixed the beats there, [and] then I record my vocals in his booth and we sat and mixed them in together. We’d usually go back a few days later and mix [again], and then once we were happy with [it] we’d do a little mastering.

[Occasionally] I write lyrics before the beat, but most of the time I make a beat then write the song. I enjoy creating the scene first. The little world all this shit is about to be said in, [and] then I just say it.

EN: Was there a particular place the album came from emotionally, or were you creating purely on your drive to make music?

MCrv: I had made eight songs before Colors and Sounds. They were about my depression, my separation from my family, and songs about how I found music and how I made it home. Colors and Sounds was kind of my acceptance of all that, [plus] realizing I got past it and can move on. I was able to deal with my depression with certain songs like “Bangarang” and “When the Heart Unfolds”.

Other times I wanted to have fun and be creative like “Spacemandude – A Galactic Tale” where I came up with a story for “Spacemandude” who’s like a secret-agent-spaceman, [and his] rival “Supreme Cream”.

Then there is an actual love song called “Unexpected Beauty” that I made for my girlfriend, who is also the mother of my beautiful daughter. [This] later led to “Say Grace”, which is the last track on the album. I made [it] for my daughter Ramona Grace.

Emotionally I was everywhere a little bit. Us expecting a child changed my attitude and mindset from focusing on how to feel better about my surroundings and current being, to realizing I’m going to be a father.

EN: Is there a goal for you, as far as evolution as an artist? Do you want your sound to continually grow and evolve with each release?

MCrv: Yes of course, I feel growing and making progress is very important to me. In all aspects really. [From] the actual recording and technical parts, to actually capturing my feelings with instruments, to allowing myself to try new rhyme schemes. I feel I have evolved with each release. Every time I make a new project (or collection of songs) my goal is to not just make it better than what I previously made, but to [also] implement the new things I’ve learned. And also to do some of the things I didn’t fit in on the previous project.

I feel like my evolution has been real natural, and I make what I feel comfortable with.

EN: That’s really admirable, to feel comfortable with the sound you’ve developed but still be focused on evolving naturally. What’s next for you, do you think? Do you hope to release more albums going forward?

MCrv: Yeah, I’ve felt like I’ve developed my own style. I know what my beats sound like, and I know how they could sound if I keep making progress like I intend.

Right now I’m about to record a five song EP I have been working on. A friend of mine helped with some of the instrumentation for each song. I played with some random ideas when I first got Logic, and he would hear what I had so far and add a part. Then I would fit that in, and build the track. I plan on releasing it sometime early fall. Its called Cluttered Souls. Its probably my favorite thing I’ve made so far… there are a couple songs on there were I feel I stepped out of my box and spoke up.

Also I’ve been working on new beats. I’m constantly working on something. I don’t get a lot of beats sent to me. I have a few friends who I have some things in the works with, but nothing really solid. I have a few singles I wanna release too. Just some different things I have been experimenting with. So really I’m just continuing my journey…

I think my next real goal is to make an album. I have one planned out and am very excited to start building solid foundations. I have ideas already rolling, but that’s probably what will consume most of my time after summer is out and the seasons change.

EN: I saw on your Facebook that you do some live shows. What’s that experience like for you as an independent artist?

MCrv: Its been pretty awesome to perform. I’ve done a bunch of open mics around central New York and those have been fun. Its usually really quiet and I’m use to being the only rap act. Most of the time its people singing with an acoustic, singing behind a track, or reading poetry. When I wait my turn to go up I get anxious and excited, ’cause its my chance to change things up and create a new environment for ten minutes. People are pretty respectful. There isn’t a lot rapping, like I said, so its cool to see people listen and nod or move a little to the music even if rap isn’t their thing.

I did an open mic one night in Binghamton and I felt really good about my performance. My only goal that night was to have fun and feel good about my songs. I did just that and it went very well. This dude Chris who writes for the Carousel Paper asked me if I wanted to open for this band, Telekinetic Walrus, so I took that opportunity. That was fun too. I’m pretty private about things. I don’t have a lot of friends I have a few close ones, and if everyone has to work (including my girlfriend) I’m on my own [laughs]. So it was me [with] my backpack, some CDs, and a laptop with my set in a playlist. I met some people and greeted everyone then I sat quietly in the bar drinking a glass of water [laughs].

I don’t drink or go to bars so everyone’s drinking around me and I’m sitting there alone listening to music. When it came time to go up, I introduced myself and interacted with the people. Everyone was really loud [laughs], they were all drinking and socializing. They didn’t know me or what I had to offer so when I started doing my songs it was loud… Not to mention the sound man had no monitors for us to hear ourselves (let alone care about how anything sounded) so it was hard to hear my music.

I did feel really good about my performance and making sure the people were still with me in some way despite the fact they couldn’t care less about what I was doing [laughs]. There were a few people who were really interested and listening to what I was saying though. I had a guy come up to me and thank me for what I did. He told me he really related and heard where I was coming from. We talked for a bit about how much time it takes to make music and all that then asked me for a CD, and a few other people grabbed CDs. Its been a pretty good experience so far. I really focus on performing my best and approaching people with a sincere and clear presence to get them to feel something.

EN: Is it intimidating to put yourself out there, in live shows, as a smaller-scale independent artist?

MCrv: Initially it was. A lot of that was because all my music and performing falls on me. I would be nervous because I had doubt’s like “what could one dude doing all this on his own have to offer people”? But once I got more comfortable with myself and people’s reactions when I perform, I realized there was nothing to be afraid of except not continuing to grow as an artist and overcoming [those] fears.

I mean, certain aspects are still intimidating. I’m not very well known or anything. When people go from listening to a song or two, then all I hear is talking during my performance, it kinda crushes you a bit… But, I try not to let it discourage me too much. Plus there are usually a few people who really are paying attention. All I can do is my best, and appreciate the time I get.

Which I do, very much [laughs].

EN: As a working class rapper, do you find it hard to balance other responsibilities while also finding time to work on your art?

MCrv: Yeah, sometimes it is difficult to balance everything. My girlfriend and I both work full time. The days she works late it is just my daughter and myself at home. Once I’m outta work I make sure the house is picked up, my animals are fed and watered, and I make sure my daughter is happy and full at all times.

Its been a bit of an adjustment since I’ve become a father. I could have plans to work on a beat or write and if Ramona needs to be fed, or she just simply wants me to hold her I put my music aside until I feel she is content. I wouldn’t trade any of it for anything though.

It’s hard work coming home from a job, raising a family, and trying to build something that’s going to last a lifetime (or at least hope it does), but it’s all worth it. I feel all the responsibility and pressure has helped me grow as a person. I have been able to value my personal time, and the time I have with my family. Once you find a routine (and make changes to that routine as new things arise) that sense of fulfillment is like no other. At least that’s what I’ve come to learn.

I’ve always been pretty disciplined with my music making and managing my time. Ask any of my friends [laughs]. They haven’t seen me in two months because I’m focused on my next project. I write myself lists of what I need with each song, and ideas I want to incorporate so I don’t have to think about it as much when I’m not working on them. Any little thing I can do to help keep organized I try to utilize.

EN: I respect that so much, the determination to still put in work musically while making sure your daughter comes first. That’s something I can never say anything bad about. Okay, now I’ve gotta ask the question I ask everyone as we wrap this up. Who are your five dream collaborations, dead or alive?

MCrv: I appreciate that man, thank you.

[Laughs] I’ve never thought about that much. I’m always like “my heroes don’t wanna fuck with me” [laughs]. Aesop Rock for sure. I always dreamed about him rapping on one of my tracks when I felt I was ready. I don’t think I’ll ever be ready [laughs].

I would also love to do a song with Blueprint. He’s been someone I listen to and followed for years. 1988 was an album I rapped along to when I really started taking song crafting more serious.

MF DOOM as well. I love all his music no matter what alias.

I would really love to do a song with Busdriver. That dude has the craziest beats and flows and I feel like that would be a challenge.

Blockhead would be another one for me. He use to make beats for Aesop, and has made great instrumental projects and other collaborative albums that rock.

EN: Ah man, I know I said we were closing it up but I have to ask this too because I’m a huge Busdriver fan and I see so little discussion about him. What’s your favorite album of his? I’ve been in love with Perfect Hair since it dropped, and Temporary Forever is a classic.

MCrv: Oh man, I really love both those albums. RoadKillOverCoat is probably my favorite album by Busdriver, [it has] so many great songs. Thumbs was great as well one of the best albums of 2015 hands down.

EN: Thumbs was dope too! I actually bought the cassette release of it, it’s pretty sick. Alright man, it’s time for the final question, but first I’d just like to really thank you again for doing this. If you had to describe what you bring to the table as a rapper (to convince someone to listen) what would you say?

MCrv: Well thank you my man for taking the time to get to know me a little, and [for] taking interest in the music and process. I very much appreciate it, its been fun having you throw questions at me.

To answer your question, I would have to say change. I usually write about things I’m going through or circumstances that need to change or evolve if you will. I am always striving to make natural progress with what I have in this life, and change is a part of that on a constant basis. I feel each song I tackle something I’m adjusting to, or I am accepting about the world or myself.

When I finish a song I feel grounded. I feel like the person I know I can be, want to be, and will be as long as I continue to learn and make adjustments (change) when necessary. I’ve always been a dude to make plans with set times and deadlines. That works to a degree, but there is always a natural flow of things and left turns to be made when least expected.

Singer/Producer SWISH discusses breaking expectations, influences, and dream collaborations

by Dustin

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Sometimes an artist has something about them that causes your ears to perk up. A unique sound, or perhaps some extra creative flavor to their music that you can’t ignore. SWISH is one of these artists. Her music is soulful, fun at times, and rich. Behind her powerful voice is a colourful offering of wonderfully complimentary self-produced instrumentation that will keep you coming back for more.

We were turned onto her music by KashJordan, who we interviewed earlier this year. Immediately after hearing the first track, we knew we had to have her for an interview – and we think you’ll find her to be something quite special.

So head over to SWISH’s soundcloud (and check her new sounds), follow her on the Twitters, and then read our interview below!

EN: First I’d like to say thanks for doing this! I’ll move right into the questions. Do you produce all your tracks yourself? If you do, what’s your audio program of choice to work on?

SWISH: Yeah, I produce all my tracks on Logic.

EN: How long ago did you start making your own music?

SWISH: I’ve been writing since I was 5. I remember the first time I wrote a song was this cheesy C-A minor-G-F chord progression on the piano about how shitty my brother was, but I wasn’t serious about it until 6th or 7th grade when I started playing guitar.

EN: That’s awesome [laughs]. I like how it all started with classic sibling hate. Other than guitar and piano, do you play any other instruments?

SWISH: Bass and ukulele are pretty instinctual. I wanna learn how to play the trumpet or flute, but I don’t have enough money to buy an instrument has the potential to end up dusty in the corner of my room.

EN: Do you try and incorporate the live instruments you can play into your production or do you prefer plug-ins and sampling?

SWISH: It just depends on how I’m feeling or what I think will best reflect my vision, but for the most part I use both equally when I produce.

EN: When Kash introduced me to your music he described you as Kanye meets SZA, how do you feel about that comparison, musically?

SWISH: I understand it. I could see where he got Kanye, because all I do is make art and I see myself as a creator. And SZA has this style that is super apparent right now with female singers. It’s so rich and juicy that I can’t help but be a part of myself. The first couple songs I showed Kash were really SZA type songs, but as a singer I feel more connected to Amy Winehouse.

She’s 100% my biggest influence as a singer and I’d like to think it shows. But in my unreleased shit I could definitely see [that
comparison].

EN: It’s funny you mention Amy Winehouse because I was going to ask if she was one of your musical influences. On that topic, who else do you draw inspiration from musically?

SWISH: These days it’s definitely Amy Winehouse and Billie Holiday. It sounds weird, but I used to be super self conscious of the fact that I was a good singer because a lot of people I listened to didn’t need to be good singers because of their lyrical content and whatnot. Every singer I heard had weak lyrics because their voice could do all the work.

I [didn’t] wanna be another singer with weak-ass lyrics, but then I listened to Amy Winehouse’s first album Frank. She’s no Bright Eyes or Kendrick with words but
she could communicate emotion in ways that no other artist could because of what she was vocally capable of. She was so fuckin’ honest, it’s incredible. It changed the way I make music forever.

Billie holiday is just dope. Whenever I listened to her time slows down. She has this one quote that gave me more confidence as a singer too, “if I I’m going to sing like someone else then I shouldn’t sing at all”. That changed me for sure.

EN: When we were checking out your music prior to this interview, our editor pointed right away how prominent your vocals are in your music (unlike some artists who let it sink into the instrumental). Is this a conscious thing you do to make sure you’re properly heard by the listener?

SWISH: I guess that’s a part of it… I think I just denied the singer part of me for a while in fear of being put in a box. I realized how dumb that was because I couldn’t be all that I was, so I couldn’t grow. Now when I sing in my music it feels relieving and free of whatever limitations I or anyone else have tried to enforce on me.

I feel like I’m Julie Andrews on those grass hills in the beginning of sound of music. I guess when I record I can’t help but run for the hills or whatever [laughs]. I just get so caught up sometimes in that feeling.

EN: Do you think it’s harder for women to be respected as writers and lyricists in music? I see a lot of discussion about it being more difficult, especially for artists pushing the boundary of what’s expected.

SWISH: One hundred per-fucking-cent, dude. Yes! I mean, there’s a blatant segregation between male rappers and female rappers. Like if “male rappers” are just “rappers” then what does that make “female rappers”? Like we have to have that female stamp to put us back in our place or some shit. Especiallyin hip-hop, because that shit is fucking bursting at the seams with misogyny.

Plus people just think disrespecting women is cool so off the bat they’ll probably not wanna give me a chance for to gain their respect [musically] as much as they would a man
Also, if you’re a man you can be butt-ass ugly and still be respected. People value women based on their appearance whether they [realize] it or not. Sometimes I think it doesn’t matter at all what kind of dope ideas I have for shit.

Sometimes I think well I’m not fucking Trixie Tang, so there goes my career. Y’know?

EN: Do you ever find motivation from wanting to break these expectations and barriers of what’s expected by female artists?

SWISH: Sometimes. Other times I just don’t give a fuck about it. Like, gender roles play too much of a role in our day-to-day it’s fucking obnoxious and played out. I’m a huge feminist, but it all gets exhausting most of the time. I just wanna be able to exist as the androgynous-ass bitch that I am without having to deal with societal pressures and people being douche-bags.

EN: That’s a respectable approach to it. So if you don’t mind me asking, do you have any plans for any project releases in the future?

SWISH: Yeah, I actually have a whole track list ready, cover art, and music videos planned. I just need to get more resources and more of a reputation before I put this out. It’s too fire to just release to my hundred something followers.

EN: Would you describe it as similar sonically to the releases on your Soundcloud?

SWISH: Nah, it’s nothing like “Just One” or “Warm Milk”… Maybe “Grown Woman”, but I don’t know. The stuff on my Soundcloud was right when I was starting to find out what I was doing. I knew I was about to find what I had been looking for, and I wanted to nurture whatever that was. So I’ve been in my garage for like a year and a half trying to figure out who SWISH is, and just making gold.

The stuff on my Soundcloud you could feel a little something something in every song.. . And I feel like it makes you be like “oh, who’s this SWISH bitch?”, but with this new shit you hear it and you know exactly who SWISH is.

EN: So you believe that you’ve found a sound very definitive of who you are as an artist right now?

SWISH: Definitely.

EN: If you could pick five collaborations with active artists, who would you pick?

SWISH: I’d probably say Chance, Kanye, Kali Uchis, Kaytranada and J. Cole… Thinking about it, I don’t even know what I would do if I got in a studio with any of them… Like, that’s just a crazy thought.

EN: I imagine it’d be quite the experience. Being that your production is quite strong, would you ever consider collaborating in the producers role even if you didn’t appear on the track?

SWISH: Oh yeah, totally. I wanna do that more often actually. I gave this rapper Kwazee a beat today that I’ve been holding onto, and I’m stoked on it. I wanna see my name attached to as many titles as possible, whatever that means. It just feels good to stick your flag in the ground like that with any piece of art.

EN: That’s awesome. To kind of revisit that topic from earlier, it feels like there’s also like… I don’t know how to word this so much, but a distinct lack of female producers especially. Would you agree with that? I know there’s a handful of them, but it seems to be a role that’s particularly male dominated… You’d be like an extension of the first wave of female producers getting into it.

SWISH: Oh hell yeah dude, that shit is wild to me and I can’t really figure out why… Maybe because a lot of the money in women is being the face of an operation rather than behind the scenes. That’s why I like Janet Jackson so much because her production is wild and I know she was pretty involved in that aspect of it.

Janet Jackson is like a female pioneer to me, a huge inspiration. Missy as well.

KashJordan (of Weirdo) Interview on Hip-Hop, Experimentation, and Social Expectations

by Dustin

kash

The hip-hop collective Weirdo might not be a household name just yet, but they’ve got massive ambitions. KashJordan, a founding member of the experimental “punk-trap” group, took the time to speak with us about these goals, his views on the changing landscape of hip-hop, and the social expectations that limit progression.

Weirdo’s music can be found via their SoundCloud and their BandCamp, Kash’s twitter can be found here, and the interview can be found directly below!

EN: First I’d like to ask a bit about Weirdo. Where did you guys meet and when did you decide to form a hip-hop collective?

KashJordan: I started Weirdo in 2013. I met with Wasif and Davey through Twitter and we made a couple songs together. We shot the video for Red, and I was like let’s call each other Weirdo. At first I hated Wasif and I thought he couldn’t rap. Then he rapped his verse on Red and I was like shit, this is guy is great. I was rapping alone before Weirdo too, but nothing was ever working out like Weirdo did.

EN: For you guys as a group who would you say are your biggest influences musically?

KashJordan: Hmm. I’d say guys like Kanye, Death Grips, Young Thug, Future, and Lil B.

EN: I noticed on your SoundCloud the group is described as experimental. How important do you think experimentation is to hip-hop as a genre?

KashJordan: Oh god, very important. I feel like I’m not going to invent a new sound right now, but I do want to experiment with different sounds, flows, and sub-genres of rap [to] make something cool and new, but also familiar.

EN: Who do you think is the most innovative in hip-hop in the context of pushing the boundaries and creating their own sound?

KashJordan: Hmm. Right now I feel everyone’s sound is collective. Everyone’s sound is borrowed from different things to create their [style]. I haven’t heard anyone lately that’s truly original and brand new… Except Lil B, maybe [laughs].

EN: That being the case, what do you think of the state of hip-hop currently? I spoke with a former Sony A&R who believes artists aren’t pushing boundaries enough, do you agree with that?

KashJordan: I love the state of hip-hop. Everyone is so weird now. Before the hyper-masculinity robbed niggas of expression. I feel like a lot of people are pushing boundaries, just no one is really listening, or holding what they’re doing to a higher standard.

Young Thug for example dresses how the fuck he wants, makes fucking cool-ass music, and has taken flows to a whole new level. Rae Sremmurd doesn’t even rhyme sometimes. Swae Lee’s verse in We is art, it didn’t rhyme at all and still slapped.

EN: I’d like to expand on one of your points there, you think it was important for hip-hop artists to lose the obsession with hyper-masculinity in order for the genre to progress the way it has?

KashJordan: Yes, I do. Rap is riddled with, like, hyper-masculinity, and misogyny. I even used to contribute to that in my older shit. It stifles you. Everyone’s the biggest macho-man they can be, everyone loves women but also hates women, and don’t really refer to them as people but kind of like prized pets and shit. It’s weird.

Niggas can’t express them selves because they’re so scared to break away from social norms of what masculinity is. Hyper-masculinity robs men of being in touch with a lot of emotions, touch, colors, clothes, and even some foods. Dudes won’t eat [something] because its not “manly”. I saw a dude call a bowl of fruit gay [laughs], that shit’s lame now.

EN: Do you hope that yourself, and Weirdo as a collective, can help contribute to this shift away from hyper-masculinity in rap?

KashJordan: Dude, for sure. I’m going to make sure we do. Like, shit’s fucked up and a lot of men are really fucking weird because of societal pressures. I won’t stop until all the homies can eat fruit, wear pink, and not view femininity as inferior (because that pretty much reflects their view on women as inferior). Does that make sense?

EN: It makes a lot of sense. I respect the fact that you’ve got your eyes on the bigger picture and not just your music.

KashJordan: Oh, for sure. Not even just that, I plan on doing a lot with my platform. I’m gonna kick the fucked up prison systems’ ass. I’m gonna kick white supremacy’s ass. I’m gonna kick systematic racism’s ass. I’m gonna kick classism’s ass. I’m gonna kick transphobia’s ass. I’m gonna kick xenophobia’s ass. I’m gonna fix the world, we all gonna be okay after I’m in this. I just gotta get on.

I wanna be on Fox News son-ing everybody.

EN: Back on the topic of your music for a minute, what’s next for Weirdo? Do you guys have plans for a new album, mixtape, EP, or anything of the sort?

KashJordan: I’m currently in California. I got fed up with my life [so] I quit my job, sold all my shit, and moved here last month. I’m gonna do a little solo thing, but Weirdo is still my backing and shit. Wasif will do the same over in North Carolina. After both our solo joints are out we’ll put out the hardest Weirdo project yet.

Also, I hate the word mixtape right now becauce it turned into a derogatory term. It’s [become] synonymous with being a lame no-where rapper, so EPs or projects is the word I’d use.

EN: What’s your solo project going to be like? Are you thinking of something similar in sound to what you’ve done with Weirdo?

KashJordan: Its gonna be weird. I’ve had this internal complex about how I wanna make fun trap music like Yatchy, Thugger, and Uzi… And then I wanna make deep dark experimental art shit. Neither of those really fit with Weirdo, so the project won’t be like our last joint eh *shrugs shoulders*.

It’ll be my first project alone, even thought I’ve been making music for like three years.

EN: That’s awesome. I’m excited to hear it. Okay, I’ve just got a couple of general questions for fun before we wrap this up. What are your top five favorite albums, all time, across all genres?

KashJordan: From Under the Cork Tree by Fall Out Boy, James Blake’s first album, Toro y Moi’s Anything in Return, Yeezus, and Future’s Monster.

EN: Which artist would you consider to be your dream collaboration?

KashJordan: James Blake, for sure.

Artist of the Month: Blueprint

by Dustin

Blueprint

It’s time to have that startling realization that it is already May. What a lovely month. It’s finally warm enough to wear shorts without looking as if you’ve got no social awareness, but it isn’t hot enough to be drenched in sweat five minutes into your commute to work. More importantly however, it also means it’s time for another Extraordinary Nobodies’ artist of the month. The most prestigious hip-hop award on our entire website.

It’s also the only hip-hop award on our entire website, but that’s not the point.

The artist of the month for May is independent hip-hop artist, Blueprint. Blueprint has long been associated with many of the independent greats such as Aesop Rock, Atmosphere, and Eyedea & Abilities just to name a few. In addition to his lengthy underground hip-hop career, he’s more recently began to establish himself as an author.

Blueprint very much feels like a hidden gem of the styles established by Rhymesayers Entertainment and Definitive Jux throughout the 2000s. His discography is extensive, and very consistently solid. Around the time of Adventures in Counter-Culture he really began to create a sound quite unique to himself. He often handles his own production, and his instrumentals are really quite nice. He tends to nicely blend a classic boom-bap sound with spacey instruments, which compliments his poetic, near spoken word style of vocal delivery.

Lyrically he’s a classic emcee. Blueprint might not get caught up in over-the-top rhyme schemes or extreme syllable placement, but very rarely does he pen something without reason. With that in mind, he’s versatile enough topically that he can flawlessly switch to classic braggadocio when the music is calling for it.

Ah, whatever the language, Blueprint freaks it well,
From Visual Basic down to Speak & Spell,
I’ll even battle these weak emcees with braille,
Not to be fucked with any emcee can tell.
(Hold Mine)

Blueprint is an important member of the Columbus hip-hop scene. Along with a handful of others, he may be considered one of the flagship artists for the area. Right before the turn of the millennium, Blueprint and a few friends established Weightless Recordings, a Columbus based independent record label which focuses on promoting local music. Though the label has seemingly slowed down in recent years, it still plays home to both Blueprint and Illogic (as well as their group effort, Greenhouse).

His solo discography is also complimented by involvement in multiple hip-hop groups. Most notably he is the emcee in Soul Position alongside well known producer RJD2. As mentioned, he is also a member of Greenhouse (formerly Greenhouse Effect) with Illogic. Blueprint was also at a time a member of one of the more intriguing indie rap super-groups, The Orphanage. The group, consisting of Aesop Rock, Slug, Eyedea, Blueprint, and Illogic, appeared on a handful of tracks but never came together for a full project, and likely never will with Eyedea’s tragic passing in 2010.

I thought that we would go first and you would tell our story,
Maybe make a movie about the Rhymesayers rise to glory,
The classic albums, the fanfare, the world tours,
So it’s kind of weird I’m here now telling yours,
I’ve been losing people my whole adult life,
Never been one to exploit my pain in a song,
I wish this was one I didn’t have to write,
But until I do, I’ll never get a chance to mourn,
So what you’re hearing now is way more than a song.
(Great Eyedeas Never Die)

If you’re not sold on Blueprint yet for whatever reason, his personality might just do it for you. He can often be found on Twitter interacting with fans, discussing music, and talking about ways to stay focused in life. His positivity is seemingly boundless, and he often goes out of his way to thank fans who express an interest in his music or writing. If you’re one of those listeners who have a hard time separating the music from the person, have no fear. Blueprint is about as down to earth as they come.

As always, the complete archive of Artist of the Month articles can be found here. Stay tuned for June!

Artist of the Month: Proof

by Apu

Proof

This April we’re fittingly making Deshaun Holton, better known as Proof, Artist of the Month. Proof is known primarily as the founder of Detroit-based rap group D-12, Eminem’s hypeman and best friend, and the man who ran the battles in the Hip Hop Shop similarly to the character of Future in 8 Mile. He was also a member of the group 5Ela and half of the duo Promatic. He was an instrumental role in establishing Detroit hip hop, being associated with acts from J. Dilla to the Fat Killahz.

He is most known for his roles in the groups that he was a part of, but his talent as a solo artist was undeniable. His first solo album, I Miss The Hip-Hop Shop, had a sound that was grittier, more soulful, and less aggressive than the D-12 material that had been made up to that point. He showed that he was capable of more than just the signature Shady style. The album still had all of the charm and wit that he and D-12 were known for, but he also showed a more reflective side that wasn’t as present on the group material, on songs like “Broken”, the Promatic cut “Nowhere Fast”, and “Love Letters”, dedicating his verses to Paul Rosenberg and Denaun Porter of D-12.

He only kept building creatively for his next album, Searching For Jerry Garcia. Proof created a sound that was only fitting for an album with that title. Songs like “Purple Gang”, “Ali” featuring the late MC Breed, “No.T. Lose” with a bluesy hook courtesy of King Gordy. “Jump Biatch” and “M.A.D.” have a quite unique sound that can only be described as psychedelic rock-rap. This album is also very dark. Much darker than anything else he had put out beforehand. “Kurt Kobain” and “Forgive Me” are the two most notable tracks off the album. They are hauntingly dark songs on which Proof uses the backdrop provided by the producers and his raspy voice to build an atmosphere of melancholy, numbness, and frustration. Much like Tupac, Proof seemed to predict his own death on this album, on more than one occasion.

Genius artists, so retarded,
Broken hearted, my soul’s like an open target,
And I’m ready to leave Earth,
You step to my death, next year on my T-shirt.
No.T. Lose

Proof was not just an ordinary rap artist. He had a vision that became clearer and clearer as he got older, fusing psychedelic rock with a soulful hip hop style reminiscent of Dilla/Slum Village as early as his first solo release, the Electric Coolaid Acid Testing EP. Even songs off D-12’s Devil’s Night like “Revelation” and “These Drugs” (from the limited edition bonus disc) sound like they have Proof’s fingerprints on them, even if they were not produced by him. Being a member of D-12 might have subjected him to the stigma of being an Eminem clone, just one of Em’s boys, but any time he did solo music he quickly broke out of that mold, using musical styles that Eminem has not attempted at length, aside from maybe “Stimulate”.

Proof was also a legendary freestyler. Eminem detailed in his autobiography how Proof once forgot a verse he was supposed to be performing on the air while he was midway through, and he pulled one out of thin air. You wouldn’t have even known if you hadn’t heard what the verse was originally going to be. Back in ’06, he was challenged to make an entire project in 24 hours. Being the quick thinker that he was, he managed to make 22 tracks in that time span, creating the Time A Tell mixtape. And if that wasn’t enough, the mixtape had a level of lyricism that an embarrassing amount of rappers can’t put on an album that takes them 3 months to make. Unfortunately, the mixtape was delayed because of his death. However, it did manage to come out 4 years later as a fantastic posthumous release.

And Proof may be heard again, if D-12 can finally actually make an album. They mentioned that they’ve messed with his vocals to see how he sounds on newer beats. Generally, posthumous material organized by other people end up being used as cash-grabs and get littered with artists who the rapper would never have rocked with (just ask Method Man about Biggie’s posthumous The Duets album). But it’s a different story when it’s the group that you started, which already has the selling point of having the biggest rapper ever as a member, just using your verses to pay homage, isn’t it?

Before I end this article, I would like to add a small personal tribute. I first started listening to Proof and D-12 in mid-2006, just a few short months after his death. The first time I heard him was on “When The Music Stops”, then on “Trapped” off Eminem Presents The Re-Up (which I later found out was just a portion of the song “Oil Can Harry”). I knew he was something special after listening to “Trapped”. Searching For Jerry Garcia is one of my absolute favorite albums. I don’t know if any other rapper has ever attempted the sound that Proof managed to create. He used to speak about being open minded because his father was a musician, and I think that helped him differentiate himself from his group and from other rappers in general.

It’s weird for me to listen to some of his music as I’ve gotten older and started to understand the gravity of what he was saying prior to his death. I can think of at least 5 different times his death was brought up before it actually happened, most notably on “40 Oz.” and in the video for “Like Toy Soldiers”. There’s a whole new level (well, not really new, since it’s been 10 years [Jesus…]) of darkness and depth to a lot of his music.

Proof is the real reason why I listen to hip hop to begin with. He’s the one who formed the group that flipped my world upside down at age 12. The group that interested me beyond all the rap that I had heard up to that point. The group that introduced me to the darker side of humor and taught me you could say whatever you wanted to. Without him, none of the music that basically raised me would have existed. Who knows what my life would be like?

Rest in peace, Big Proof.