Album Review: Uncommon Nasa – Written at Night

by Dustin

2017-10-10

8/10

To fans of the now disbanded Definitive Jux, the name Uncommon Nasa probably isn’t terribly unfamiliar. As an engineer he had his hands in the release of some of the labels most notably early works. For those unfamiliar, however, he’s also an extremely talented producer and emcee. Staying true to his roots as a musician, Nasa is a bit of a throwback to listen to. His music embodies the sound of New York’s underground scene, and his many releases show a true dedication to his own craftsmanship; however, this most recent project is a little bit different. Written at Night panned back from Nasa as a focal point and took a highly collaborative approach with other artists.

Though unconventional, this approached payed off in spades when digesting the final product.

The theme of Written at Night was relatively loose. Instead of chaining artists to specific topics, the album acted more like a diary of late night thoughts; moreover, there was “lightning in a bottle” feel to this sort of approach which was really quite interesting. The guest appearances often felt rough around the edges, as if the artists caught a wave of creativity in the dead of night and rolled with whatever came out of their pen. This is far from a negative however, and it was a massive part of Written at Night’s charm. It also made the album unpredictable. Even when approaching features with quite distinctive styles such as Open Mike Eagle and Quelle Chris, there was no real way to figure out what sort of direction they were going to take on their respective songs. This unpredictability added a nice sense of required engagement, as if turning ears away from the album for even a moment could result in missing something important.

Uncommon Nasa himself appeared on every song, but his presence was not overly pronounced. This was by design, as (like mentioned earlier) Written at Night was intended to be a collaborative release. Respectably, he kept true to this idea and didn’t force himself into the spotlight on any of the tracks save for the few solo portions at the very beginning. When Nasa did step up to the mic though, he was quite solid. His throwback New York style and enthusiasm toward hip-hop as an artform were evident. His style felt nostalgic, a throwback to the New York underground during the turn of the millennium. Being that this style doesn’t have much presence in rap currently, it was refreshing to hear on Written at Night. He may have a sound that isn’t for everybody, but there was certainly no denying the passion and thought that went into his contributions.

Nasa did, however, make himself very present on the production end of things. Handling every single instrumental on the release. He did a great job given the amount of vocal talent he was producing for. The beats were gritty, and satisfying to listen to; moreover, they were open ended enough to accommodate every artist in a comfortable way. His production wasn’t overly flashy, but it had a character and consistency which kept it engaging throughout the entirety of Written at Night.

Another interesting aspect about this album is that it seemed to gradually get more “out there” as it progressed. While a lot of albums tend to build to a climax, it was certainly a nice touch to have an album centered around late night thoughts and creativity progress in a way similar to the human mental state during the late hours of the evening. This did give the record a bit of a slow burning quality, but also a very satisfying and pleasurable complete listen; moreover, one should expect to enjoy this album more in its entirety, rather than individual songs. It was crafted in a way that lends itself perfectly to a long-form listening session.

At the end of the day, Written at Night was a compilation of likeminded artists coming together to create whatever they felt like creating. It is difficult to fairly score an album with such an open ended concept and variety of voices; however, Written at Night was undeniably solid. Nasa did an excellent job of piecing everything into properly cohesive listen. If you’re a fan of any of the artists on this release there’s probably something for you here. Incidentally, it’s also a good record to pick up if you’re looking for some new artists to dive into. Definitely a highly recommended listen.

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Think Piece: Ethics and Standards Versus Hit-Pieces in Music Journalism.

by Dustin

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I don’t consider myself a music journalist. I’m an individual who writes about music with my peers for fun. I write because I love music, I love musicians, and honestly, I love the people I get to interact with in the process of putting together articles and interviews. Yet, I regularly find myself feeling furious when checking in on bigger music publications due to the growing trend of hitpiece articles being used as viewer bait. These articles, attempting to undermine public figures, are very often grossly inaccurate. Taking quotes, song lyrics, satiricle works, and the like out of their original context to support imaginary accusations of wrongdoing.

Honestly, it really needs to stop.

I can admit that artists and critics do place themselves into the line of scrutiny – this is an objective truth to the nature to presenting art or discussions on art in a public setting. Of course, you also open yourself up to having your personal views critiqued, as you have now essentially willingly become a public figure. That’s fine. Again, it’s basically part of the gig; however, it becomes incredibly problematic when incompetent journalists lust for attention so severely that they being publishing unsupported attack pieces on these public figures. This has always been an issue in journalism (hate sells), but unfortunately in the past couple of years it’s become the plague of music journalism.

Two cases in particular inspired this think-piece. Susan Edelmen’s attack article on Ka from last year, and Ezra Marcus’ work of the same vein against Anthony Fantano (TheNeedleDrop) from a few days ago. Both authors showed a complete misunderstanding of the individuals they wrote about, yet attempted to spin them into horrible people for the sake of shock value and click-bait. Another similarity is both articles removed context from their “supporting evidence,” turning it into something completely different to give credence to their slanderous claims. Congratulations, you’re both garbage music journalists. Individuals like Susan and Ezra aren’t the problem alone though, they’re merely symptoms of a much larger problem.

The disease itself is the shift away from any sort of sense of a journalistic code of integrity.

Let’s take a look at a few of the generally accepted points that appear in most codes of journalistic ethics and standards. These are sourced through Wikipedia, but if you have access to scholarly journals on the same topic, you’ll find that these are fairly well universally accept. Most importantly in this instance are these four:

1) Reporters are expected to be as accurate as possible given the time allotted to story preparation.
2) Public figures are to be reported on without malice, and reports on these figures should be supported with well understood fact (even in the case of a “smear-piece”).
3) Pursuit of the news is not a license for arrogance.
4) Show good taste and avoid pandering to lurid curiosity (in other words, shock-bait news is a no-
go).

As far as I am concerned the moment you publish an attack piece that is baseless, you have just discredited yourself entirely as a journalist; moreover, the publications that enable the spread of misinformed works need to be held responsible. These authors are no longer writing in the name of public interest. They’re writing as narcissists. So interested in drumming up attention for themselves that they’re willing to attempt ruining another human’s career in the process without any semblance of a backbone to their work. The outlets that enable these articles to become published for the shock-value draw are equally as disgusting, throwing out any sense of ethics for a few more clicks of ad revenue.

You are killing music journalism. Good work.

I do recommend that anybody interested in holding authors accountable have a look into the standards of journalism. Wikipedia has a really excellent summary page that will give you a general idea, and I think it would really help to form a foundation when it comes to critically assessing whether or not an article is worth giving serious consideration. Individual reputations can be highly tied to what others write about them; even when proven false, slander articles can be chained to someone’s public image for an ungodly amount of time. Be diligent in what you consume, and the journalists you support. If the publications wont hold them responsible, it’s on us to make the effort.

Album Review: Apollo Brown & Planet Asia – Anchovies

by Rajin

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7.5/10

I think the biggest mistake I made last year was sleeping on The Easy Truth, by Apollo Brown and Skyzoo. That album ended up being one of my favorites of 2016. Seeing a couple of months ago that Apollo Brown was teaming up with another rapper, this time being Planet Asia of Cali Agents, for an album called Anchovies (released through Mello Music Group) I made sure not to repeat that mistake.

Apollo Brown has been one of my favorites for a while. He is one of the most reliably dope producers I can think of; while generally not the most unique beatsmith in his technique, style and range, the end product is guaranteed to be soulful and immersive. His beats tell stories, even without vocals. Usually when a rapper and producer make a collaboration album, it tends to sound like the rapper’s vision with that sole producer supplying beats. Yet, the exact opposite is generally true with Apollo Brown. It’s clear that these albums are his show, and on each, he gets the rapper to come with his A-game. Planet Asia, on the other hand, is someone who I am new to. In order to get familiar before listening to this album, I listened to his other MMG release: a collaboration with producer Gensu Dean called Abrasions (which, for a quick one-line review, was quite a solid album with some filler). Based off that album, he seemed to be a talented and straightforward emcee – no frills. Just hardcore hip hop, pulled off effectively. Perfect for what Apollo was going for on this.

Speaking of which, the musical style on this album is very different from what I think most would imagine at first glance when seeing the names Apollo Brown and Planet Asia together. I think the expected product would be something along the lines of Dice Game or Trophies. They must have been aware of this going in, and decided to go for the unexpected. Rather than his typical hard-hitting drums and cinematic soul loops that would theoretically sound great behind Asia’s booming voice, Apollo Brown’s production on this is very stripped down. The drums are intentionally less prominent in the mixes, with snares often completely absent, and dirty, dusty pianos generally taking the forefront on the production side of this. It was a bit of a risk that very much paid off.

Apollo Brown and Planet Asia said that Anchovies would be an acquired taste, and to a certain extent they are right. The album sounds like it belongs to a branch of hip hop occupied by artists like Roc Marciano and Ka. However, I feel as though Anchovies is far more accessible than an album such as Honor Killed The Samurai or even Rosebudd’s Revenge. Where emcees like that are lyrically more esoteric as far as their vocabulary and references, Planet Asia’s lyricism is rooted in more colloquial language, with more of an emphasis placed on witty bars rather than abstract stories and wordplay. In addition, he raps with a more standard delivery and rhythmic flow while Ka and Marci are typically more hushed and sound almost like spoken word. Anchovies draws a great deal from the style that they use, but remains grounded in more traditional hip hop – it ends up sounding like a less cloudy and hazy version of what Conway might do. In having this sort of style, the album ends up being what I consider to be a great place to start for listeners who are trying to dip their toes into that particular facet of hip hop.

“Dirty” is an adjective that was used in a lot of the promo for Anchovies, and it really is probably the most apt description there is. The album sounds like the soundtrack to slouching against a wall smoking a cigarette in an empty alleyway behind a bar at 2 A.M. Asia’s voice and his generally somber delivery gives a feeling of cynical (and at times, emotional) reflection. This album arguably sounds like a spiritual successor to Dice Game (which, incidentally, Planet Asia was featured on)…it’s almost like this highlights what it’s like after the game when everyone’s dispersed and you’re left by yourself. It’s fitting, then, that Guilty Simpson shows up on “Nine Steamin,’” a song that is kind of reminiscent to that album.

Some songs, such as “The Aura,” “Duffles,” and “Deep in the Casket” have a bit of a jazzy, noir film kind of vibe to them, where you could imagine them behind black and white scenery. The majority of the album, however, is a little more soulful and reflective. Songs like “Speak Volumes,” “Diamonds,” and “Tiger Bone” sound sort of like what RZA would have made during the Wu-Tang Forever era with the soul samples, but far more minimal. The minimalism on this album is definitely its defining trait, and it’s pulled off wonderfully. Apollo did a great job at making sure that no matter how bare-bones the music was, it still felt full and warm to listen to.

If there is one thing that I can say I am disappointed by, it is the fact that after you get acclimated to the style of music being made here, the songs become a little predictable. If you, like me, listened to each of the singles before the album dropped, then there are likely few surprises offered to you. Apollo Brown keeps it consistent with his production, and Planet Asia does what he does lyrically and vocally. That’s not to say that it gets repetitive or the music is nonessential, and there are a few tracks that do break that mold and add a bit of depth, namely “Pain,” “Get Back,” and “You Love Me”. It’s just that the listener can pretty accurately guess what will happen on each track once they’ve heard a few. The two of them have enough talent, though, that while the predictability may hold Anchovies back as a whole from reaching its full potential, the quality of the actual music present is not diminished by any means.

On Apollo Brown’s albums, I often find more enjoyment in the beats than the raps. His production is captivating almost 100% of the time, making it’s easy for a rapper to just become a voice that compliments it well but ultimately gets tuned out. Even if the production is great, if there are emcees involved, I personally can’t call an album better than just “pretty good” if they don’t grab my interest. Sure, you can be a good rapper, but if you just serve to fill in the blanks on an impressive beat tape you’re not offering enough for the listener, or at least one like myself. With that being said, Planet Asia is not one of those emcees. He’s got witty lyrics, a distinctive delivery, and most importantly, a commanding presence and charisma. If anything, this album might be the first time I felt that it wasn’t overwhelmingly directed by Apollo. Asia felt like he had much more of a leading role, as opposed to the supporting role that the emcees generally take. Perhaps it was due in part to how minimal the beats were, but Asia’s vocal presence and clever lyricism made his mark on the album in ways that a lot of emcees don’t get to over Apollo Brown’s production.

Overall, I found Anchovies to be a great album. It is definitely one of the best efforts that I’ve personally heard this year. I appreciate and very much enjoy the sound that these guys decided to try out. Despite my criticism of the music getting predictable in the context of the album, there is no filler at all. This is an album you can’t resist but listen to the full way through. It sounded natural, and not pretentious and over-ambitious, which would have been easy given the style. My favorite tracks are probably “Diamonds,” “Dalai Lama Slang,” “Pain,” and “Get Back”. Obviously I will have to sit with it for a little longer, but as it stands right now, this is one of my favorite Apollo Brown albums; I’m not deep enough into Planet Asia’s catalog to speak on it from his side, but I’m certainly going to remedy that. I recommend this album to anyone who likes hip hop in any capacity, because it may offer a glimpse into a style that not as many people are exposed to, while not being a challenging listen.

A Beautiful Tribute to Sean Price’s Legacy, Imperius Rex

by Rajin

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Two years from the day of Sean Price’s passing, Duck Down Music released Imperius Rex, a posthumous Sean Price album. P was working on an album with that title, however, he had passed before getting too deep, completing only four songs according to his wife, Bernadette. As such, she took it upon herself to complete the album with what materials she had. She had taken the few songs Sean had fully completed, and fleshed the rest of the project out with unused Sean verses and filled the blanks in with guests. The end product is an impressive collection of songs that feel almost completely like a normal Sean Price album.

The album opens up the with the title track, which was one of the few songs that was properly completed before Sean’s death. Before the song starts, we are greeted with a preface by Sean’s daughter Shaun (that’s always going to amuse me) doing her signature cover of Sean’s song “Soul Perfect.” Honestly, I can’t think of a better way for the album to start, because Sean bringing his daughter out at a show to do that had become one of the coolest moments to see happen in Sean’s career. The track kind of serves a similar purpose as “Genesis of the Omega” from Sean’s last album, Mic Tyson, where it is just a bar-fest used to get the listener ready for what the album has to offer. It may not be a coincidence that The Alchemist produced both tracks.

Most of the rest of the album has a sort of apocalyptic sound to it. The soundscape laid by songs such as “Apartheid,” “Negus,” and “Church Bells” is eerie, spacey, and threatening. The beats to those songs and several others feel almost hellish, with minor distortion in the instruments used and ghoulish pianos. It is by no means experimental or out-of-the-ordinary (as that would defeat the entire purpose of this being a Sean Price album), but it is definitely a cool sound. I don’t know whether Sean himself had decided that this was the direction that he was going to go in or if that was just the type of production that Bernadette decided to use, but regardless, it was a cool artistic choice. It feels like the next logical step from where Mic Tyson had left off, as that album was definitely muddier, darker, and more Alchemist-driven than his previous two, which had more of a typical Duck Down-9th Wonder/Khrysis-influenced soul-sampling sound to them. Of course, that is still present on a few tracks like “Ape In His Apex” and “Clans & Cliks,” but overall there is a more minimal, creepy atmosphere to the album.

The guests on this album were chosen very well. While most of them were put on the album in order to fill the gaps that couldn’t be filled with more of Sean’s verses, none of them actually felt that way. Coming from who they came from and being done the way they were, it all felt like Sean had personally worked with them for their verses. Aside from Freeway alluding to Sean being dead on “Prisoner” (whose contribution I did not like in the slightest), I genuinely can’t tell whether the verses were done before Sean’s death or after. They did a great job at not talking about his death, but rather just adding to the song in whatever way they would have done under normal circumstances, and most were very enjoyable overall. Also, there were thankfully no really left-field features, which tend to happen a lot on posthumous releases. Everyone featured on this album is someone who I could have seen Sean working with, oftentimes because he’s already worked with them. In my opinion, DOOM came with the best feature verse on the entire album by a long shot, showcasing a hunger that he hasn’t had since Born This Way. It was also sort of fun to see Mrs. Price actually rap on the album too. It’s definitely something I see Sean enjoying, being the family man he was.

I would have to say the most impressive part of this album is how well the songs were put together, considering what they were. As stated earlier, Bernadette Price painstakingly went through verses and hooks that Sean had in the vault for various reasons and chose which ones to put together to create full songs with. On occasion, such as “Dead or Alive” and “Definition of God”, you can definitely tell the verses come from two different sources; on both songs, the first verse would have Sean sounding like he always does, and the second verse had him sounding a lot raspier, almost alarmingly so on the former. However, there are no other times I can think of that noticeably displays a difference. In fact, the verses tend to sound very natural together. If I didn’t already know what the creative process was for this album, I honestly would have thought that more of it was completed before Sean’s death, the verses are placed together that fluidly.

Of course, being that this is a Sean Price album, the content doesn’t offer much more than rapping about rapping and talking about how he’ll slap the shit out of you. As taken from a voice clip used on “Refrigerator P!” Sean says that he is a hardcore emcee and that he’s not trying to reinvent the wheel. While yes, it can be fun to hear a rapper rap, it can get very boring unless you have substantial enough skill to back this up. Thankfully, Sean did. I believe that Sean’s artistic style did play a role in what makes Imperius Rex feel so much like a real Sean Price album. Given what Sean usually rapped about, it may have been a little easier to piece songs together.

As this is a posthumous album primarily consisting of songs that Sean himself did not complete, we feel as though it would be unfair to assign a score to it. This is not technically an official review so much as it is my thoughts on the album and the work going into it. I just wanted to discuss it, not only because I enjoyed the project a lot, but because I am floored at the care put into this project.

This album was meticulously crafted and sequenced with reverence towards Sean’s artistic process. Everybody involved on this album clearly meant for this to sound like what a fourth Sean Price album would sound like, rather than a tribute album with Sean Price vocals on it or Sean Price but artificially updated. I want to salute Bernadette Price specifically for what she did in creating this album. She has, quite frankly, set the standard for posthumous work in my mind, as far as the integrity behind it goes. This is, hands down, the most tastefully done posthumous album I’ve ever heard. No vulture-like treatment of the music (a la posthumous 2Pac and Biggie records) to be seen here. There was no misplaced guest verses, no questionable beat choices, no corny concepts. Mrs. Price did her absolute best to make something that would sound like something her husband would have made, and aside from moments where you can tell the verses aren’t from the same song due to a change in Sean’s delivery, she was immensely successful.

RIP Sean Price.

Rajin Rambles: The Consumption of Hip-Hop

by Rajin

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I’m a little late in finding this out, but according to Nielson, rap and R&B are now the most widely consumed genre of music in America, overtaking rock music. Everyone who has anything invested in these genres probably has something to say about that, and I’d just like to give my quick thoughts.

Now first and foremost, I am thrilled about this. Fans of anything should want to see that thing succeed, and while success can be a subjective status defined by those aiming for it, hip hop music being the most widely consumed kind of music is at least an objective indication that what people thought decades ago was just a fad is here to stay and continue growing. While there have been many fads within hip hop music, those voices of doubt about the culture and style of music as a whole only belong to the ignorant at this point, those who are in denial about the last 40+ years now. That being said, I know that there are probably some people who are a little upset about hip hop no longer being counter-culture, and see it as having been diluted to get to this point.

The biggest contributing factor to the growth in consumption of the music is that hip hop culture has opened up to everybody. There are white rappers running around everywhere, and it has become normalized (the Eminem comparison has stopped being drawn the way it was for a good 15 years). We are at a point where people like Dustin can start on a blog on the premise of being a hip hop site (although that has expanded a bit), and have me, somebody who is neither white nor black, contribute to it, and nobody would think anything of it. Rappers are coming in with different looks (granted, some of them are fucking stupid to me), as opposed to the almost ubiquitous baggy jeans/hoodie/Timbs combination of the ‘90s/’00s. Hip hop is still a genre that is opposed to change, but it has become far more accepting of new ideas, styles, and looks, possibly aided by the overall mindset of the millennial generation.

In a changing environment, it’s evolve or die. The music industry is in constant shift. Listeners are very fickle in what they like. They have short attention spans and tastes change very quickly. If music doesn’t make an effort to change with it, then it gets left behind. Mainstream hip hop chose to evolve. The choice may not have been supported by everybody, but it happened, and it’s been happening since the beginning. From golden age rock samples with little to no lyrical content, to highly lyrical verses over dusty soul and funk samples, to the heavy orchestral sounds of the G-Unit era, to crunk, and now trap with more emphasis placed on melody in delivery. It’s how the genre keeps from going stagnant, and keeps doors open for listeners to constantly keep coming in.

While this may reek of “selling out” or changing to the point where it’s no longer the same genre, you have to remember. The DNA of hip hop is still present. In fact, and I’m sure I’ve said this before, it’s probably more present than it was 10 years ago. In 2007, the only notable labels that I can think of that really repped the core essence of hip hop are Duck Down and Def Jux (I’m definitely forgetting others). These days the movement of representing what the culture was built on has been a growing one. Sure, it may be in response to the current styles in the spirit of rebellion and keeping that counter-culture feeling alive. However, the interest wouldn’t be generated for this sort of a movement/subgenre if there wasn’t enough listeners of the genre to begin with. We’ve reached the point where people like Westside Gunn and Conway can be signed to a major label. I don’t think that would have been possible even just 5 years ago.

Hip hop is in a good place. It is exciting to see it winning and reaching the level of popularity that it is at right now. While there are a ton of popular subgenres out that many (including myself oftentimes) may have a distaste for, it is only natural for a genre to create subgenres while trying to experiment. There is room for everything now, and hopefully that continues to allow for further growth in consumption and experimentation.

Why it Was Good: The Entity, by King Gordy

by Dustin

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The year was 2003, and in the hip-hop world all eyes were on Detroit. With Eminem rising to global mega-stardom, D12 going platinum with Devil’s Night two years prior, and Obie Trice being added into the Shady Records family, the city seemed like an unstoppable production line of rap gold. This remained true under the surface, where a blossoming underground scene was producing a plethora of incredibly talented artists. King Gordy was one. A member of the world’s “largest” group, The Fat Killahz, Gordy was somewhat an unpolished diamond at the time. He was rough around the edges, but full of soul, energy, and had a mind that could only be sculpted in the rough neighborhoods of Detroit. In fact, prior to approaching this album you should drop all preconceived notions of King Gordy. Though his reputation as the “King of Horrorcore” is well established at this point, he was a little different during the time of The Entity.

First and foremost, it’s impossible to have a discussion about The Entity without first talking about “Nightmares.” Track two on the album after an introduction skit. “Nightmares” was, for lack of a better description, the evil-bizarro-world version of “My Name Is.” King Gordy introduced himself to the listener as the Van Dyke and Harper version of Freddy Krueger, and then angrily shouted his name repeatedly so you can’t forget who he is. It is really an incredibly catchy and dark song that’s a blast to yell along with. I don’t know how King Gordy and his camp managed to make something evil so much fun to listen to, but as a way to introduce himself, it was amazing.

“Nightmares” is the perfect track to give a listen if you’re still on the fence about this album. It gives an excellent snapshot of the anger, vileness, and talent King Gordy was bringing to the table on The Entity. The music video is a lot of fun too, featuring appearances from Detroit rap icons and an additional verse which didn’t appear on the album version.

Armed and dangerous, AKs turn your brains to mush,
Mix my weed with angel dust, feds label us notorious.
(Nightmares)

Enough about that though, what about the rest of the record?

King Gordy was overflowing with an equal amount of energy on the rest of The Entity as well. There was not a single track on the entire album where he phoned in a vocal performance, putting his own spin on long-time influences such as Notorious B.I.G. and Howlin’ Wolf. The Entity primarily features Gordy’s hyper-violent angry style, but there were also a handful of very genuinely sad moments. He took a much softer tone on songs such as “No Lights” and “Nobody Hates Nothin” and provided a much needed introspective gut-punch to give the album even more personality. It’s also of note that King Gordy had an incredibly powerful sing-rap style on many of The Entity’s tracks. This is a trait that he’s retained even today, and it something that has really set him apart from many rappers. He had (and still has to this day) an incredibly rare blend of excellent writing and a super expressive, charismatic delivery. Teamed with the instrumentation on The Entity, Gordy sounded like an unstoppable force.

The production on The Entity was dirty, and distinctly Detroit flavoured. Handled by The Bass Brothers, Eminem, Silent Riot, and others such as Hex Murda, the instrumentation is gloriously cohesive and created a unique sonic environment. The way they played with elements of rock, boom-bap, and stripped back guitars, horns, and pianos still sounds fresh almost a decade and a half later. They also suited the style King Gordy was using on The Entity absolutely perfectly by providing the type of room his powerful voice needs to take the lead.

As a side note, the skits on this album were actually really well executed and added something to the overall listening experience. They built up King Gordy, and the world he lives in, to be inhumane, monstrous, and anarchistic. A lot of artists have trouble making skits that don’t detract from the album, but that wasn’t an issue for The Entity. Removing the skits would kind of make the album feel like it had missed something, and they are welcome moments even on repeat listens. The features, though placed sparingly, were also excellent on The Entity. Much like the skits, they didn’t take away from King Gordy’s presence on the album. It’s still undeniably his show throughout.

Or maybe I was just never nothing to you,
Like our friendship meant nothing and I never did nothing for you,
Evidently I been nothing since the beginning,
From out the womb until my funeral, I’ll be nothing until the ending.
(Nobody Hates Nothin’)

Though Gordy would eventually fall out with WEB Entertainment and continue to have an proficient career as a solo artist, The Entity stands as a timelessly heavy debut album. It perfectly captured the character of King Gordy: angry, in your face, and not afraid to say something risque if he knows it will piss the listener off. Street rap fans will take great joy out of the albums rawness and grit; those who found King Gordy later on in his career will enjoy the horrorcore twists on tracks like “Time to Die” and “When Darkness Falls”. Ultimately, it’s the perfect hardcore rap album – a portrait of Detroit’s rap scene at the time – that has been confusingly slept on for nearly 15 years.

LordGio Speaks on Artistry, Overcoming Depression, and Open Musical Horizons

by Dustin

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It’s not very often that a submission to our open inbox actually catches our ears here. Generally projects are half finished, poorly put together, and underdeveloped; yet, the inbox remains open as a means for artists to put themselves out there. It stays worthwhile as every once in a while something genuinely special blows away all expectations. That was the case when Mississippi’s LordGio submitted his Heatwave Vol. 1 tape several months back. Digging into his back catologue showed a true hidden gem of an artist, and a true creative. Simply reviewing his material would have been difficult. There is no material about his backstory to provide context. It would have done any of his works a severe injustice.

That’s where we come in. We decided to sit down with LordGio and really sink into what makes him an individual. It’s a bit of a longer read, but we promise it’s well worth it. Enjoy.


EN: For those who are unaware, could you give a little background on yourself as a musician?

LordGio: Alright well, I guess technically I started with music in middle school when I was learning to play the trumpet, which I practiced all the way up until college. When it comes to rapping though, I started writing raps in 5th grade and they were pretty trash…but I guess decent for my age looking back at them? Like, I had a knack for sticking to themes, subjects and storytelling even though the wording was pretty cringey. Sometime in the 9th grade, I started being active on the website RapGenius (now Genius). I saw so many musicians on the forums and that made me realize how un-impossible this whole thing was.

I had gotten the game Rock Band in middle school and I played it pretty much every day until around the 9th grade when I didn’t really have time and I could pretty much “100%” all the songs on hard mode. I got the idea to use the microphone from the game (because it was a working USB Microphone) and use that to actually record some rapping on my favorite beats. I believe the first one I did was Low Class Conspiracy by Quasimoto.

I wrote something on the way to school and it kind of had the same subject of police brutality and was a bit of a distortion of a real life story that happened to me and looking back it’s one of the few of my old things that I’m like “eh that’s not too shabby”. I post that to the forum, asking people what they think. There wasn’t much technique or wordplay, but people appreciated the flow and storytelling and said it was pretty good besides the fact that it sounded like ass because the cheap mic and lack of mixing and mastering. However, that was enough for me to be like, “huh maybe I /can/ do this”. I started doing it more often all the while trying to improve my lyrical ability; studying hip hop way more than I did before and studying from all sorts of artists that I never listened to before. I eventually hit a bump where I was tired of looking for beats and never really finding anything that really fit what I was looking for (not to mention being too broke to afford any legitimately).

I started fiddling with the idea of just making my own beats. I tried all sorts of useless free software and made a bunch of worthless material, but each time I got better than the last and that’s all that mattered to me. I eventually landed on ableton and started getting decent enough after a while to where people said it was alright, but not to the point where I wanted to rap over it (which was the initial goal of course). I kept trying and trying and shaping and molding and changing styles until I finally made one and decided to try rapping over it. It was decent, but it sounded terrible. That was around halfway through the 10th grade…

Now I’d suffered from depression since middle school, and around this same time is where I probably hit rock bottom. I got tired of the routine (wake up, go to school, go home, repeat…replace school with college and then with work and do this until you die). I felt like life was so pointless and i just wanted to skip to the dying part, but I remember it like it was yesterday: I was in Chemistry class and I was staring out of the window looking at birds fly and wishing I could just do the same. Just be able to fly and never have to stay in the same place, and deal with the same shit over and over again. I was addicted to watching Curren$y’s Jet Life vlogs and wished I could just be on the road like that and go all over the world. So I said fuck it, that’s what I’m gonna do. I didn’t know how I was gonna do it, but I knew I was gonna do it. And I just kept getting better everyday. I didn’t even care about school anymore, nothing else mattered and music was the only thing I thought about from the time I woke up to the time I went to sleep. This shit became the only thing I’m alive for, and so I refused to let anything get in the way of it.

EN: So you got really serious about it at that point.

LordGio: Yeah. I started figuring out the formulas from watching interviews, listening to people’s firsthand accounts, soaking up any kind of knowledge, advice, and good or bad examples that I could find. I didn’t have any connections so i made myself the connection. I learned how to make beats, I learned how to mix and master, I learned how to promote myself, and most importantly, I figured out how exactly to get on and do something with this.

Enter: JELLYFISH_.

I realized that if I was ever gonna do something with this, I have to be unique. I have to have my own sound and my own image and my own brand. People need to remember me apart from everybody else that makes music. So I started a project making beats from scratch, with no real stylistic blueprint. Whereas before, I though “I’m gonna make a beat like this guy or like that guy.” I instead started JELLYFISH_ with the mindset that “I’m gonna make this beat that’s not like anything I’ve ever heard before.” I finally got enough songs that I was proud of, cut out a bunch of them, and put it on Bandcamp. Since then it’s been pretty much business as usual

That album didn’t just grant me any wishes or anything, but I’d say that was the turning point where I started realizing how to get myself on, and actually started applying it.

EN: I notice you mentioned Quasimoto. I’m assuming Madlib is one of your influences, but who else influenced and shaped your drive to produce?

LordGio: Madlib is definitely one of my primary influences. I’d say Curren$y was the one who inspired me to rap, but I remember very clearly that I wanted to start producing after I listened to Purple Naked Ladies by The Internet. Noisey had a behind the scenes interview with them at Syd and Matt’s apartment. They had simple, barebones furnishing, with eccentric lighting everywhere and a simple studio room and I was just like “this is it.” That was what I dreamed of. I imagined having a space like that and I was able (and still to this day able) to say that, if I could just wake up in a place like that everyday and just be able to and make some shit and do whatever…that was my dream.

At that time I was really into Odd Future stylistically. It was through them that I discovered guys like MF DOOM. I guess they kind of opened my ears to so many different genres and sounds. They probably inspired me to be confident enough make something as left-field and all over the place as JELLYFISH_.

Other influences though would be A Tribe Called Quest, Eric B & Rakim, the OVO collective. Artists like Three 6 Mafia, UGK and No Limit were influences from before I even started making music. Being from Mississippi that’s pretty much what I was raised on. I think those influences are starting to show a little bit more than they may have on JELLYFISH_ with this new sequel project I’m working, ANEMONE_. I should also list Flying Lotus, Hiatus Kaiyote and even Led Zeppelin to an extent. I’m influenced by a lot of stuff really [laughs], I don’t think I could make a full list.

EN: Do you believe that having a wide range of influences helped you to become more versatile as a producer going forward?

LordGio: Yeah definitely. I think having an ear for so many different genres has not only opened me up to different rhythms, chords, tones/tambres, but also different subjects or concepts that people who only listen to one style of music may not be familiar with but perhaps that they identify with personally or culturally. I think having those things that people can relate to gives them a further appreciation for my work because I show awareness of things they aren’t used to being addressed in “hip-hop.”

Speaking of that, I think having these different influences has also helped me to craft a sound that doesn’t strictly fit one genre. This allows my music to be picked up in different crowds. I’ve had people tell me that they’d never thought they would like 4/4 style dance music until they heard the second half of drip, at which point they started seeking out more. They saw that there could be stuff for them in the dance music world.

EN: Do you think it’s too limiting when artists allow themselves to be defined by a single genre right out of the gate?

LordGio: Yeah, I think it can cause problems in the long run. I don’t think Kanye ever really wanted to just be a rapper for example. I think he always intended on making projects like 808s & Heartbreak or Yeezus, but maybe we just caught him early in his creativity. I’ve noticed that there are artists who “blew up too early.” What often happens in the entertainment industry is that artists tend to be forced into the style fans discovered them with. If you look at a Kanye or an Earl Sweatshirt, you see people who suffered because they got famous for one thing, when in reality they have a lot more to offer.

I think a Tyler, the Creator is an example of when it goes right. He came in the game kind of unusual, so he had room throughout his career to completely re-invent his style because nobody knew what to expect since the beginning. I think that’s what I aim for and why I’ve grown much more patient with my career bubbling slowly. I want to build a diverse catalog before people really start looking at me, so no one has to look at future releases and feel blindsided by a change of pace.

EN: Touching on something you mentioned earlier because I’ve gone through similar things mentally. I was wondering if you could expand on the importance of music for you when dealing with depression?

LordGio: It was a lifesaver man. I grew up in a household that stood on the concept of “you’re a child, you don’t open your mouth unless spoken to. You don’t have an opinion, privacy, or a right to your own thoughts.” Looking back, that’s an unhealthy way to raise a child because it’s important for people to get these thoughts out freely and have them heard and digested rather than instantly rejected. I grew up feeling like I was alone. Like I’m the only one who thought the things that I thought and saw the things that I saw and there was something wrong with me. At some point early in childhood this, coupled with bullying at school and other things essentially made me give up on society. I still to this day (while I’m trying to work on it) feel like I can speak something clearly in English and other people react like I’m speaking another language. I just stopped saying anything.

I was left alone with these thoughts, like an open wound left to fester. Lack of self esteem turned into self hatred when I was the only one who seeing my side of things. Parents reinforced those negative thoughts that I already had. Life is only a predictable cycle of misery when shown no other path but the standard, and it fueled the inadequacy and self hatred because I don’t fall into that norm.

When you introduce the idea of writing lyrics however, this changes things a little. It introduced a space where I could write these ideas down. There is no criteria for being right or wrong; there is no “MLA format.”; there are no weird looks or uncomfortable moments; there is no misunderstanding because I know exactly what I mean by these words. When I share these ideas with strangers and they like them, they try to figure them out. Even if they’re getting it wrong, it feels like I’m not alone.

I mentioned that i first started recording music after being active on Genius. This also introduced me to many of my best friends of all time. People who were intrigued by the same art as me, even if it was for different reasons. This shows that I am truly not alone because if they completely shared my points of view, that would still feel like being alone. For their thoughts to be different takes on my own, it shows they aren’t patronizing my thoughts by pretending to share them.

Producing tacked on a whole new level to this. There’s kind of an understanding of how inefficient and ineffective spoken language can be. There are feelings and ideas that neither I, nor anyone can find the words for, but that I know other people experience. I think art is such a powerful tool because it allows us to communicate those feelings and thoughts to each other without the limitations of semantics, grammar, logic, and tone. A person can look at a painting of some splotches of color, and feel something from looking at it that they just can’t express in words; however, they know what they’re feeling, and it’s so strange because that feeling can be so much different than what the artist felt or even what the next viewer will feel.

Producing music is my painting. I have this freedom to put sounds here and there, like colors from my palette. Sounds that I create, sounds that I cut out and re-use because they’re familiar to me.

This limitless nature of sounds shows me that maybe life isn’t a predictable cycle. If nothing else, I can at least count on the idea that there are no railroad tracks constraining me musically. I applied this to life and realized that the railroad is only there if I want it to be. We’re told to drive on the road and that works for many people, but the truth is that we’re perfectly free to pull over and walk into the woods. If I wander around the woods long enough I may find other campers like me who have the techniques and supplies to help me survive. Alternatively, I could kick the bucket before I find these people, but that’s okay with me as long as I’m able to roam freely with the imagination of something being out there. It gives life meaning and a reason for me to press on and keep waking up for the next chapter.

EN: Do you think that, in general, we (be that author, musician, average person, whoever) need to be more open about mental illness? I know for many, particularly for individuals in poorer communities, there is a “don’t ask, don’t tell” mindset around it. I know you mentioned experiencing something like that with your family, so I’m very interested in your thoughts about how the discourse needs to change.

LordGio: That’s it exactly! There’s a cycle in poorer communities that “we have bigger things to worry about than mental health,” but that only creates further problems. We tell our kids that they don’t have anything to be upset about, which teaches them to disregard their emotions in unhealthy ways. It ends up warping their view of the world and causing them to develop more bad habits or commit harmful acts to themselves or others as an outlet.

Then as adults we reject the idea of seeking therapy, even amongst ourselves via honest dialogue because “these bills are more important” or “there’s nothing wrong with me.” Our kids see this, and it adds to the stigma around mental illness.

Unfortunately, the famous people who are more honest with their personal issues and struggles are seen as alternative, strange, or downright taboo to individuals in these communities too.

EN: I appreciate your openness on these subjects, thank you. Moving back into your music a little bit, your last project had some work with other vocalists if I remember correctly. What’s it like to work with the idea of having someone else perform on your track?

LordGio: It’s really exciting because when I’m making a song – whether it has lyrics or not – I kind of have this whole central idea of the song when listening. But then when I’m collaborating with people it’s interesting to see that the song could evoke a totally different or eerily similar feeling in them. It’s also exciting when I’m mixing or editing their vocals and they get that same sort of feeling.

EN: Would you like to expand further into working with other artists on their own material, or do you prefer to work mostly on your solo releases?

LordGio: I do prefer to work mostly on my solo releases, but I also want to have collaborative projects with people. My JELLYFISH_ album is part of a three part series and they’re all going to be self produced and have no features, but I’m always excited to have collaborations on other projects.

I also want to collaborate with artists of different mediums. I have this video out right now called “eyes(n)ears” that depicts me playing a set while a line artist I met does a live-draw outside a local art museum. We’re gonna be looking to do it again in different places.

But expanding on that, I’m interested in doing work on video games, anime, and independent film. I have fragments of ideas for short films, but I want to focus on my music first before I take on another medium.

EN: That seems like a very unexplored territory for younger producers. The only producer that immediately jumps to mind for soundtracking video games is Doseone. Do you think producing for other artists is a skill that’s highly transferable to scoring for a game or movie? I mean that in the sense that you’re basically having to bring someone else’s ideas to life rather than your own.

LordGio: Yeah, the only one I can think of in video games is C418 who made the Minecraft soundtrack. But yeah, it’s the same as that whole collaboration aspect where I think it would be cool to create my own interpretation of that artist’s vision. There’s usually more functional soundtracks, but then there’s those like Minecraft, or anime like Cowboy Bebop, FLCL, and Samurai Champloo, where the soundtrack composer approached it with the functionality taking a backseat but while still fitting within the aesthetic of the whole production. That’s where you have projects whose soundtracks can arguably stand alone as their own pieces. This often times enhances the project as a whole, because it can reinforce the emotions evoked from the writing or the visuals.

That’s the kind of thing I would want to work on, as I tend to find myself struggling when I try to do more strict and conventional work.

EN: To close, I’d like to ask a question that often gets asked to people who’ve made it to huge levels of fame; however, I always think the answer is more interesting when discussing it with smaller independant artists. If you were to sit down and talk with someone who was just learning to produce – as in they’re completely new to music as a whole – what would be the advice you’d give?
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LordGio: It would probably be that there’s no right way to do this. Lots of people are gonna feel like you’re doing it wrong, because either you’re not using the traditional techniques or because you’re not doing the state-of-the-art new techniques. The truth is, art has no blueprint. There’s no tried and true route to creating art, otherwise it wouldn’t be art. I look on the internet from time to time and see a lot of people asking what tools they should use, whether hardware is better than software, and whether sampling, sound design, or the use of live instrumentation is better. The truth is it could be any combination of those things that makes a great project, or it could just be one. Either way, use what you can get your hands on because it makes for a more interesting story when you came across a tool or material by chance and figured out how to make sounds with it especially if it’s something nobody ever considers using.

So yeah, there’s no right or wrong way. Don’t listen to the old people or the hipsters. Don’t listen to the little kids or the hypebeasts. Just make what feels right.