Rajin Rambles: Wow, I’m Trying New Things!

by Rajin

new thingas

Over the past few months, I have been trying to break out of my musical rut. I kind of felt like, while there’s a hell of a lot of material under my preferred subgenres of hip hop, I was still limiting myself from having a full comprehension of the genre. I already know for the most part what I actively dislike, but there were also certain styles that I was unfamiliar with, but thought I would dislike or wouldn’t click with me, so I just wrote them off. Styles that I guess would be considered to be more “avant-garde” or abstract. I was pretty wrong. This piece is going to kind of serve as a continuation of sorts to a piece I wrote at around this time last year, Hip Hop: My Replacement Girlfriend, just to catch everyone up to this stage of the continuous development of my taste in music (or lack thereof, I’m sure, in the minds of many readers).

I think I mentioned in my piece last year that I had gotten into Run The Jewels and Prof in late 2015, and was just getting into Aesop Rock, so I guess I’ll start there. Since then, I’ve gotten a lot more into Aes’s music; I’m a massive fan of his now. In fact, if I had to re-do my favorites of all-time list [which I don’t really plan on doing unless maybe in a tweet], Aesop Rock would definitely be somewhere in the low teens. As a bit of a loner myself, though not nearly as severely as he, I was drawn to what Aes had to say about how he saw the world. That’s not to mention the way he said it, as we all know, the guy loves to just fly over heads of people with his word choice. However, like with Run The Jewels (and later, El-P’s solo work), I was also fairly intrigued by the style of production he’s used throughout his career.

I think getting into acts like RTJ and Aes kind of signaled my first attempt at exploring past the musical styles of hip hop that I usually enjoy, more so than anyone else I had listened to by then. The Definitive Jux sound was the first style that I had heard that I personally considered to be really “alternative”…sure, there were the guys like The Roots and some Native Tongues artists (mostly Tribe) that I would listen to who were considered alt hip hop in their era, but by the time I entered hip hop fanhood, those sounds had become a lot more commonplace, used by household names. They were traditional hip hop to me. Conversely, Def Jux style is, to this day, embodies that “alternative” spirit. That industrial, post-apocalyptic experimental hip hop sound is so far removed from the sonics of conventional hip hop, yet it fully captures its gritty, rebellious nature.

It was between those guys and Danny Brown’s Atrocity Exhibition that really got me reevaluating my listening habits. Like I said at the end of last year, I really didn’t expect that I would like Atrocity Exhibition. That album is WAY past anything that El-P or Aesop Rock has done as far as the weirdness or experimental sounds. The fact that I loved that album really made me sit back and think about why I was restricting myself to more conventional subgenres and sounds. At that time I kind of had the idea ingrained in me that I wasn’t somebody who listened to more experimental rap music. I, stupidly, had boxed myself into certain areas of the genre because I had a couple of unfavorable experiences listening to a couple of experimental artists who probably weren’t too great even in the context of alt rap. But even though I had finally begun thinking about it, I still didn’t really try branching out to styles I was unfamiliar with. I’m a creature of habit.

I would have to say that the next artists that could be considered as deviations from the “norm” that I got into were Ka and Roc Marciano, both earlier this year. They were similar enough to what I was accustomed to so it was easy. Now mind you, I’ve always loved Roc Marci as a guest rapper. He’s one of those guys that when I see his name on an album’s tracklisting I instantly get hyped. However, I never really ventured into his solo material until months after Rosebudd’s Revenge was released. Dustin showed me Ka’s Honor Killed The Samurai album shortly after I saw that he was the subject of a bullshit hitpiece by some stupid non-journalist trying to get clicks at the expense of a man’s privacy, livelihood, and reputation. The album was unlike anything I had ever heard. It was the first time I listened to an album where, for the entire thing, it was just stripped back soul samples with no drums and a hushed delivery that bordered on spoken word.

Rosebudd’s Revenge didn’t click instantly the way Ka’s album did, but something about it kept nagging at me to go listen to it again. The production on the album is ridiculously soulful and just as stripped back as far as the drums go, and Roc’s style of lyricism is so casually slick that I had missed much of what he said on first listen. These guys were my first foray into the minimalistic sound, I believe…if not, then they’re at least the first guys I heard who made me love that sound. I’m usually in love with powerful drums in rap beats so it was almost like a shock for me to hear rapping without them, but I got over it very quickly and came to love this kind of style, provided the artist/producer pull it off effectively. These guys appeal to the Wu-Tang head in me, while venturing to the left. I hope that Metal Clergy project happens.

Also, I just want to say, that since getting into Roc Marci’s music, I’ve been hearing the guy’s style in so many artists that it’s ridiculous how little credit he gets for being a pioneer. I listen to music from certain artists after Reloaded came out and it’s like they heard that album and couldn’t help but emulate that style. It’s only getting more obvious as time goes on, too. He’s had a MASSIVE impact in independent/underground hip hop and people don’t realize it.

Anyways, I think around the same time, Dustin wanted to show me milo. He showed me so the flies don’t come, and I enjoyed that a lot. milo was the first rapper who could fall under the “art rap” category that I ever listened to. I was always under the impression that that style of rap music was less focused on lyricism and more on just being weird and quirky…not to mention made to appeal to pretentious hipsters. milo, however, fused dense lyricism with the quirkiness, which helped ease me into accepting the subgenre, as well as erase my unfair preconceived notions of it. It’s not the artist’s fault that some of their fans are pretentious, plus it’s not like Eminem doesn’t have one of the worst fanbases in hip hop. The music is good, and that’s really all that matters.

Dustin had also been telling me forever about Hellfyre Club as a whole, and spoke about how much he loved Open Mike Eagle’s music. He showed me Hella Personal Film Festival and Dark Comedy, neither of which I was too into, yet, I still felt that Mike was very talented and there was just a disconnect between me and the music. To add on to all that, also showed me some of Busdriver’s music (truth be told, I don’t remember if that was before milo and Mike, after them, or in between), which was easy for me because Busdriver has some similarities to Busta Rhymes. In August I revisited those two Mike albums, and while I still didn’t feel Dark Comedy, Hella Personal Film Festival had finally clicked with me. I find that while there are some art-rappers who like to make music that’s artsy just for the sake of being artsy, when an artist pulls it off because that’s who they are it comes across as a lot more natural and less irritating for me to listen to. Just like with anything else. I just had a bias going into it against the subgenre that I’m glad has been erased.

Since then I’ve also gotten into artists like Quelle Chris and billy woods. I was familiar with Chris because I knew that he and Fatt Father are tight…I believe Chris helped to design the cover to Fatt’s grossly-overlooked album Veterans Day. His album this year is hands down the weirdest album I’ve liked. He kind of takes the minimal approach of Rock Marci and Ka on it vocally, but has really weird, trippy, and lush instrumentation all over it. Dustin and I went back and listened to his older material, which was far more along the lines of typical Detroit hip hop, which almost felt less natural to him than the weirder stuff he’s been doing. And billy woods’ Known Unknowns was great. He captures the Def Jux sound that I spoke about loving (thanks to Blockhead and Aesop Rock on production) with a delivery that kind of reminds me of Del tha Funkee Homosapien. It was way off from what I was expecting (I was unfamiliar with him before listening to the album), but I loved it.

And that brings us to today, where (at the time of writing this) I just received CDs in the mail by most of the artists I spoke about here. Now, all of this isn’t to say that my taste has suddenly shifted, or that if you aren’t doing something unconventional that you’re less creative than any of these artists. My taste and primary preferences have remained relatively constant. All that’s happened is that I have been exploring different styles and sounds, usually via suggestions from Dustin, and as a result my palette has expanded to include an enjoyment of music along the lines of the artists I have talked about here. For the most part it’s mainly what I’ve been listening to for the last few months. I just wanted to talk about it, because it has given me new insight into what the music that represents the culture of hip hop can be.

So yeah. I’m gonna keep exploring different corners of the genre, perhaps even stuff that I thought I had pinned down, because what I’ve found in the past few months has definitely not been what I expected in many cases. I recommend other people do too, because I’m definitely not alone in being the kind of person who just sticks to what he likes and doesn’t bother trying something new. I’m kind of glad that something changed in me and I decided to get acquainted with more of the genre, because I feel that if I want to give my opinions on this site, I need to have a complete understanding of it rather than an understanding of a select portion. That’s something I’m gonna keep chipping away at.

Update: Originally I felt like I completed what I was saying, but a few days passed and I realized I had a little more to say. I took a listen to Uncommon Nasa’s new album and sat with it for a little bit, then suddenly understood why a lot of the artists I mention here click with me. It sounds like New York. Everyone who reads this blog knows that I love a New York vibe in my hip hop. It has now occurred to me that a lot of the artists I would have originally considered representative of the NY sound, like Wu-Tang, Black Moon, and Mobb Deep among others, only represent a certain aspect of it. They capture the essence of growing up in and living in the projects, hustling to get by. Guys like Ka and Marci have a similar feel to them but are more abstract about it. The more experimental guys like El-P, Aesop, billy woods, and Nasa represent a different shade of NY. They capture the essence of the cold wind tunnels around towering skyscrapers and overly busy and crowded streets. Both sides feel like work boots, baggy jeans, and hoodies, though.

I’ve kind of felt like this might be the case for a while now, but after listening to Known Unknowns and now Written At Night the obviousness of why I connect with these artists has smacked me in the face and cemented itself in my mind. Clearly, this doesn’t apply for everyone I wrote about here, but it is interesting how the essence of New York can be captured in such vastly different ways. I guess as a resident of NJ I’m a glutton for rap that embodies the east coast.

Advertisements

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

by Dustin

mcrv-glitched-9-10-2016-5-17-32-pm

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.

Album Review: Blueprint – Vigilante Genesis

by Dustin

VG

8/10

How suitable that we’d close out May with a review of a new Blueprint project. Blueprint, of course, was our featured artist at the start of the month. The veteran underground emcee has teamed up with longtime collaborator Aesop Rock to deliver this brand new EP, Vigilante Genesis.

Though it weighs in at a modest nineteen minutes, Vigilante Genesis is anything but short on content. Rather than being a collection of assorted songs, this project is basically a miniature concept album. Taking elements from hip-hop culture and the murder mystery genre, Vigilante Genesis follows a story of a graffiti artist looking to bring justice upon those who mistakenly murdered a fellow tagger. Each track adds a piece to the tale, building a world much like an old-school story-based radio show.

When these greedy motherfuckers try to take what I love,
I write ‘greed’ in red ink, let it drip like blood,
Punk-ass security, they circle in shifts,
Seemed like five minutes but I time it at six,
And I done come too far to go out like a bitch,
So I chill behind a dumpster, hit my target, and dip.
(Vigilante Genesis)

Putting the story aside for a moment, Blueprint as a rapper shows up as sharp as ever. He felt very engaged in the story, providing a fitting first person narrative to match the tone of the story. As a general rule Blueprint is quite charismatic on the mic, and this is true for Vigilante Genesis. His writing was sharp, but at the same time never detracted from the concept just to complete a grander rhyme scheme. He’s straightforward in all the proper ways, which lead to a simple-to-follow listen.

Abstract has a longstanding place in hip-hop, but the route Blueprint took definitely worked most efficiently for this kind of concept.

He tearing up like “oh shit, I thought you was dead”,
Nah man, you and your mans killed the wrong kid,
I could kill you now for the sake of revenge,
Or you can come with me and tell the cops what you did.
(Ten Paces)

Aesop Rock provided the production for Vigilante Genesis, and those familiar with his instrumental work would be able to recognize this instantly. The beats feel like they could fit seamlessly within either of his last two solo releases. The production matches very well with Blueprints vocals, and maintains consistency throughout the entirety of the EP.

Aesop did a lovely job at setting the mood, and Blueprint knocked it out of the park with his slick story telling.

As a whole, this is a can’t-miss EP if you’re a fan of Blueprint’s work. Perhaps it’s a little bit of an adventure away from what he usually does as an artist, but he pulls it off well. General hip-hop fans will most likely enjoy this tape as well. The story is easy to understand, but interesting enough to hold the listeners interest; moreover, this is probably Blueprint’s most accessible tapes in terms of overall sound. Give it a listen, it may just be one of the top projects of 2016 by year’s end.

How Hip-Hop Helped Me Deal with Mental Illness

by Dustin

Depressionarticle

I’d like to discuss something that I’ve only ever told the closest people in my life – I struggle with mental illness. I knew something was wrong since my early teens, but I didn’t admit it to myself (and seek formal diagnosis) until I was in my first year of university. After I saw my doctor, I let the stigma surrounding anxiety and depression rule my life. I felt ashamed, and I didn’t think anyone would understand what I was feeling. I held back from talking with people because I didn’t want to be judged negatively. I isolated myself out of fear that one of my friends or family members would find out that I wasn’t okay.

At one point I was sitting alone in my dorm drinking myself to sleep every day, I had stopped attending class, and my workout regime crawled from seven days a week to zero. I gained close to fifty pounds and was placed on academic probation. It felt like I had hit rock bottom, and it was incredibly scary. I was worried that I would end up doing something to hurt myself, and I couldn’t stomach the thought of putting my family through that sort of trauma.

I also knew that depression wasn’t something I could deal with alone, but I still wasn’t ready to ask for help.

It’s the stuff I find hard for discussion,
How the fuck do you explain your own self destruction and still remain trusted?
(El-P – Poisenville Kids No Wins)

In the meantime, I buried myself in music. During the twelve awake hours a day I was spending isolated in a twelve foot by twelve foot dorm room, I nearly always had my laptop playing some sort of music. The majority of the time I was just laying there listening doing nothing else, and it very much became my life.

Hip-hop in particular became home to me, and I started exploring and experimenting with new artists. I really started to get into music by El-P, Killer Mike, Open Mike Eagle, Blueprint, Shad, Eyedea, The Roots, Aesop Rock, and so many others that I won’t even attempt to list them off right now. For the most part, the music just served as a distraction that I happened to enjoy. I found everything from the production methods to writing styles interesting.

More importantly however, these artists were at times exploring dark paces they’ve been, and I felt like I could relate to the music. That’s when it really clicked. Holy shit, I’m not by myself in this. There are other people who are experiencing the exact same thing as me who probably also feel alone.

It took about a year to get to that point, but my perspective changed entirely.

Now if you never had a day a snow cone couldn’t fix,
You wouldn’t relate to the rogue vocoder blitz.
(Aesop Rock – None Shall Pass)

As crazy as it might sound, it really was a bit of an epiphany. The idea of opening up to those close to me didn’t seem quite as daunting. I told family members, I told some of my closer friends, and for the first time in a long time I was honest with myself about the severity of where I was mentally. As you’d expect, the people I opened up to had various reactions. A few withdrew themselves from me, but most were beautifully supportive and remain friends to this day.

Most importantly though, a huge weight was lifted off my shoulders. I started getting professional help. Not a whole lot of it, due to financial issues, but enough that things started to turn around. I started to pick up athletics again, my grades improved dramatically (though, I ended up dropping out two years later, but not for performance reasons), and I stopped drinking every day.

For lack of better phrasing, I felt like a different person.

Make you wanna sing, clap your hands to it,
Nod your head a little bit, maybe dance to it,
And reminisce about the good times you had to it,
Not sure what I’d do if I never had music.
(Blueprint – Mind, Body and Soul)

Now, I’d be fully lying to you if I said things ended completely happily. Anxiety and depression are still things that I battle with at times. Recently I hit another low. It didn’t last nearly as long, but it was a reminder that these things can linger. The difference now is that I’ve established the support network to fall back on when things get difficult, and it’s become an invaluable personal tool for keeping myself in check. I feel like I owe reaching this point to music.

So what I really want to say is, thank you to the artists who showed that personal side and vulnerability. As much as none of them will probably read this, it helped me accept things about myself that were incredibly difficult to come to terms with. I’m in a much better mental place because of it.

If you’re reading this and you think you’re dealing with something similar, remember that you’re not alone. I know that it’s really easy to slip into mental isolation, and there are still times where I have to really force myself to not purposely cut people out as well. I can’t stress enough how much simply opening up to someone supportive can help. Take advantage of whatever resources you have. It’s never easy, but I believe it’s worth the fight in the end.

Album Review: Open Mike Eagle & Paul White – Hella Personal Film Festival

by Dustin

HPFF

7.75/10

After kicking off the month of March by winning the incredibly prestigious Extraordinary Nobodies Artist of the Month nod, Open Mike Eagle looked to have a strong finish to the month with his brand new full length album. Having found a home for his unique brand of “art rap” on Mello Music Group, Mike set the bar high for himself with the one-two album-extended play punch of Dark Comedy and A Special Episode Of. You may be asking, “did he follow up these two projects with another exceptional album”? Well, if you had paid attention to the little score at the top you would already know that yes, yes he did.

The album is also titled Hella Personal Film Festival. So yeah, that’s a thing too.

Hella Personal Film Festival listens almost conceptually, with every track being a movie script to some aspect of Open Mike Eagle’s life. He’s always been a very relatable artist, yet this album manages to push that a little further. Though Mike keeps his absurd, witty, and sometimes sarcastic approach to analysis, it becomes obvious right from the opening track that this project will be at times more serious and introspective. There are moments on Hella Personal Film Festival that seem to put him at his most vulnerable, exposing scars and concerns to the listener.

I heard that when you in a fucked up space,
No one can hear you signal help,
I tried to set them straight,
And tell them I self medicate,
All they saw’s a glitchy video,
But then I never show my cards,
Instead I write for stealth,
Blah blah blah, I cry for help,
All this bellyaching’s just to say,
My belly’s hurting after all.
Admitting the Endorphin Addiction

At times it did feel like Mike had lost some of the vocal energy that he had in abundance on Dark Comedy, but the more somber approached fit the subject matter well. His delivery at times felt more similar to Rappers Will Die of Natural Causes than to his newer work, which was a bit surprising at first. Don’t take that to mean that he took a step backwards though, because that couldn’t be less true. Open Mike Eagle’s writing, emotional awareness, and presence on Hella Personal Film Festival has quite clearly progressed. It’s just more closely related to his older records in terms of overall sound.

The album only has two guest features, Aesop Rock and Hemlock Ernst (the rap personal of Future Islands’ Sam Herring) on “I Went Outside Today” and “Protectors of the Heat” respectively. This selective use of guests artists is fairly typical for an Open Mike Eagle album, and both managed to add something to the songs on which they were featured; however, Aesop probably had the more interesting verse of the two with his ever-so-confusing charm. Busdriver also makes a quick appearance at the end of “Dang is Invincible” where he says a grand total of nine or ten words. He’s not listed as a feature, but the voice is unmistakable.

Gotta admit it’s hard to feel good without being narcissistic,
Did the whole tour and didn’t get a parking ticket,
Looked in my heart and there wasn’t no darkness in it,
Feel awesome dude, found some wind to throw caution to!
Dang is Invincible

Production also really has to be discussed for this album as it was a collaborative effort with UK based music producer Paul White. White is perhaps most well known for his work with Danny Brown will on both XXX and Old. He has also provided production for the likes of Homeboy Sandman and Guilty Simpson. As far as the instrumentation on this album, he did a wonderful job at providing beats which compliment Open Mike Eagle’s voice. The sound is somewhat more conventional that most of Mike’s discography, but in this case that is certainly not a bad thing. There is not a single instrumental on Hella Personal Film Festival which feels out of place. They flow into each other very nicely, building a cohesive atmosphere throughout.

If you were looking for powerful booming production though, you wont find it here. It would be kind of questionable to be looking for bangers on Open Mike Eagle album in general because that’s not really his style, but hey, it was worth a mention.

Living from check to check, I keep checking,
Incoming call, directly reject it,
If you want to talk, suggest you leave message,
I check, check, check like every three seconds,
I’m recording right now and I’m checking between takes,
Every notification that my phone machine makes,
I put it down whenever, but it’s never a clean break,
I should get a heavy phone and pretend it’s a free weight.
Check to Check

Basically, if you are a fan of Open Mike Eagle’s previous work it’s not a stretch to say that you’ll enjoy what Hella Personal Film Festival has to offer. It might not be the best jumping off point for a new listener, as it is surprisingly more dense than an album like Dark Comedy (which is probably the easiest album in Mike’s discography to jump into in terms of lyrics and overall sound). If you’re looking for an record that takes multiple listens to fully digest, but still offers some comedic relief, then Hella Personal Film Festival may just fit your taste perfectly.

Just be sure to give it more than a single spin (you’ll want to anyway).

A Reflection on Definitive Jux

by Dustin

In February of 2009 El-P would take to the internet to announce the permanent hiatus of Definitive Jux. A label which he co-founded after a falling out with Rawkus Records, where he previously was signed as a member of Company Flow. Definitive Jux would quickly establish itself as a powerhouse in the independent hip-hop world through many critically acclaimed releases at the start of the millennium.

Definitive Jux had an extensive discography over eleven years of operation. Today, in a celebration of life (in the loosest sense), we will take a look at four of the most important releases from the label. These are not necessarily the best records to come from El-P’s underground giant, but those which had a special significance.

thecoldvein

Cannibal Ox – The Cold Vein

According to a barely comprehensible letter written by Vast Aire about his beef with El-P in 2009, Cannibal Ox were not officially signed to Definitive Jux when The Cold Vein was released (though the validity of this statement can definitely be brought into question); however, it was the album that established the label as a major player in independent hip-hop.

It pushed boundaries in terms of production and vocal deliveries. The Cold Vein sold more than the label had predicted (over 60,000 copies as of 2012) and ended up being widely regarded as an underground classic, making it the foundational record in the Definitive Jux discography.

The greatest shame is that Cannibal Ox would go on to never release another album on the label. The group spiraled into dysfunction between 2002 and 2003, and eventually dropped from Definitive Jux. Vordul Mega began struggling with mental health and substance abuse issues, and Vast Aire began lashing out at members of Definitive Jux for various reasons (many of which were proven to be false) until sometime in 2011.

The group finally self-released their sophomore album fifteen years after The Cold Vein, yet it ultimately fell short.

Labordays

Aesop Rock – Labor Days

The Cold Vein was the album that really started it all, but Aesop Rock’s Labor Days would be the release that proved El-P’s label would not be a one hit wonder. Boasting gritty alternative-New York style production by Aesop Rock and longtime collaborator Blockhead, the concept album about America’s working class would far exceed label expectations.

One single from the album, Daylight, would be such a hit that it spawned an extended play sharing the same name the following year. Labor Days was the album that kept momentum rolling for the label, and pushed them forward into a string of critically acclaimed albums from multiple artists through the early 2000s.

Perhaps as importantly, this was Aesop Rock’s full length debut on Definitive Jux. Even though his final album release on the label would come in 2007, Aesop was perhaps one of the most prominent members on the Definitive Jux roster. Where Cannibal Ox would slow to a stop following their debut, Aesop Rock continued to put out quality releases on the label that sold respectably.

Illsleepwhenyouredead

El-P – I’ll Sleep When You’re Dead

I’ll Sleep When You’re Dead‘s release was an important transitional moment for El-P’s sound, but also for Definitive Jux. Unfortunately it would mark the beginning of the end for the label. I’ll Sleep When You’re Dead would ultimately spawn the final run of releases from big name artists in the New York collective. Aesop Rock, Rob Sonic, and Cage would all also contribute one final album a piece. Along with a few small scale albums and regional releases (often shared with other independent labels), these would be the last albums of Definitive Jux.

I’ll Sleep When You’re Dead was also co-founder and figurehead, El-P’s, final album on the label. Even though it didn’t set Definitive Jux up for success like The Cold Vein, propel the label forward like Labor Days, or mark the end of an era like King of Hearts, I’ll Sleep When You’re Dead serves as an important part of the label’s time line.

Kingofhearts

Camu Tao – King of Hearts

Though Camu Tao’s King of Hearts was not up to the same standard of quality as I’ll Sleep When You’re Dead, it is arguably the most important release in the Defintive Jux catalog. This would be the final release for the label, but more importantly the final release for Camu Tao. Having passed away after a battle with cancer, this album would be a sampler of unfinished snippets cleaned up by El-P following Camu’s death.

To put it politely, the album is incredibly rough; however, behind the roughness it seemed as if he was onto something with the sound. The amount of genre blending on the King of Hearts album is almost overwhelming. There are moments that sound electronic, hip-hop, and there even seems to be a significant amount of alternative rock influence.

As unfortunate as the circumstances were leading up to its release, King of Hearts serves as a fantastic bookend to the Definitive Jux era. Even in its unfinished state the album encompassed everything the label encouraged: it was innovate, off-kilter, and didn’t try to follow anyone’s lead.