A History of UTFO and the Roxanne Wars

by Dustin

UTFO

The 1980s were an interesting decade for hip-hop as a genre that had just begun to find its footing. The classic artists of this era are often remembered for one of two things: infectiously bouncy party music, or gritty socially rooted rap. Yet, aside from the big names – N.W.A, Public Enemy, LL Cool J, Run D.M.C., The Beastie Boys, and a few others – rap from this particular point in history seems have found itself overshadowed by the behemoth that is 90s rap. Yet, if one is up to doing a little digging, there are a ton of very interesting artists to be discovered. One such group was Untouchable Force Organization, or as they were more commonly called, UTFO. An east coast rap group that brought a unique flavor to the sounds of the 80s.

UTFO formed in Brooklyn, New York in 1984 when two of Whodini’s regular break-dancers, Doctor Ice and Kangol Kid, made the decision to pursue a music career of their own. The two enlisted the talents of The Educated Rapper and Mixmaster Ice to round out a quartet. Thanks to the group’s pre-existing connections to the music industry it didn’t take them long to find a label to call home. In this case, it was Fred Munao’s Select Records that decided to take a chance with the group. The slightly more experienced R&B outfit Full Force was brought into the fold to assist the newer UTFO, tasked with overseeing the production of their debut studio album. Full Force took this job to heart, and sought the help of sampling and sound design expert Gary Pozner to assist with the instrumental portion of the record. Armed with some of the best in the industry, UTFO was primed to make a splash in hip-hop with their self-titled debut album. Which, is exactly what they did; in fact, the group probably got a bigger response than they bargained for.

Their freshman release is regarded by many hip-hop enthusiasts as a slept on classic, with its unique beats and flows for the era; however, UTFO as an album is still mainly known for setting off a massive string of diss tracks known as the Roxanne Wars. During the promotional run of the album, a track tilted “Hanging Out” was released and performed relatively terribly in terms of pure numbers. The b-side of the single, however, would go on to receive huge amounts of airplay. This song was titled “Roxanne, Roxanne,” a comical track about a hypothetical girl who had ignored the advances of the various UTFO members. Around this same time, UTFO missed a scheduled performance, much to the dismay of venue promoters Marley Marl and Mr. Magic. A 14-year old Lolita Gooden (known by her stage name Roxanne Shante) heard the men discussing the problem, and offered to write a song to fire back at UTFO. Surprisingly they took her up on this offer, and Marley Marl opted to handle the track’s production.

The fruit of their labor would be released not long afterward. It borrowed the original beat from “Roxanne, Roxanne” and was named “Roxanne’s Revenge.” Local radio stations adored the song, thrusting it into instant hit territory with continuous airplay. UTFO and Full Force saw the humor in the situation, and promptly contacted Elease Jack to perform vocals on their own answer track, “The Real Roxanne.” On this song, Elease claimed to be the actual Roxanne originally dissed by UTFO, and took jabs at all four members. This sparked Roxanne fever in the New York hip-hop scene, and artists entirely unrelated to the original incident began releasing Roxanne songs. Topics ranged from claiming to be Roxanne, claiming to know Roxanne, or in one particularly outlandish case, claiming that Roxanne was a man all along. It was such a craze that close to a hundred Roxanne songs were estimated to have seen release in the span of a few years. Though this seems highly likely to be exaggeration, there is no doubt that UTFO made their biggest splash with “Roxanne, Roxanne” and the time period around their debut album.

Perhaps unexpectedly, this was basically where UTFO’s career peaked. The Educated Rapper wasn’t on the group’s sophomore effort, Skeezer Pleezer. And the album itself didn’t garner much attention, apart from the song “Split Personality.” Their next three albums would also fail to meet expectations even though the group experimented with other sounds such as rock, swingbeat and reggae. Ultimately, the hypersexual Bag It & Bone It released in 1991 served as the endpoint for UTFO. The four men parted ways on good terms, and stayed active within the music industry in more subdue roles. They knew when it was time to call it quits, and that never impacted the lifelong respect they had for each other. A true testament to this was in 2017, when all of UTFO were reportedly by Educated Rapper’s bedside as he lost his battle to cancer.

Though they faded out of rap in an unspectacular manner, UTFO’s legacy should probably be spoken about more than it is. As ridiculous as they may have been, the Roxanne Wars were one of the first instances of beef extending beyond a one off diss and response. Their influence on modern artists was also far greater than one would expect, as evidenced by the outpouring of respect and love over the internet following The Educated Rapper’s death. UTFO helped paved the way for individuals that didn’t fit perfectly with the sound of their time. In most respects they were absolute eccentric oddballs compared to their contemporaries, but the group’s genuity left a lasting impression on the hip-hop scene. In retrospect, the present day alternative artist may not have even existed without the lane UTFO began to carve. While they may appear to have been a one hit wonder on the surface, it goes much deeper than that. Doctor Ice, Kangol Kid, The Educated Rapper, and Mixmaster Ice were four of the most important, but least spoken about individuals in the support structure of hip-hop.

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Rajin Rambles: CDs Leaving Shelves

by Rajin

emptycdshelf

Recently, Best Buy announced their plans to cease the sale of CDs in their stores by this summer. While I had a couple of CDs from family before I started collecting, the first time I bought a CD for myself was in 2009, at the Best Buy closest to my house. I would say that the bulk of the CDs that I have bought were bought at that exact Best Buy, actually. I can’t say I like the chain (at all), but I would be lying if I said it didn’t play a substantial role in the painstakingly slow growth of my collection.

I understand that Best Buy needs more room for TVs and phone kiosks, so keeping floor space for CDs when sales are continuing to drop doesn’t make business sense. However, as someone who is passionate about purchasing physical media, I am saddened by this news. While lately I’ve generally shifted away from CDs towards vinyl and cassettes, the easy access to CDs at a store 5 minutes away from home is without a doubt what helped foster my interest in collecting physical media. I can’t help but feel that the removal of CDs from a store like Best Buy will stop that from happening for other people. I’ve read that Target may be planning on only selling CDs by artists and labels with whom they have special deals with, which makes it even more unfortunate.

It’s clear that album sales are no longer going to be what they were. While I absolutely do not care about album sales, I’m very concerned about lesser-known artists and how they will probably get the short end of the stick. It’s been like that since streaming became a widespread thing. However, if CDs really are going to be pulled from stores, and with streams counting for so little as far as sales, either a new algorithm needs to be set up or else artists are just going to be screwed out of money even more severely. Those that were able to manage to even get their CDs in a store in the first place likely benefited quite a bit from doing so. Taking this option to get their music out there away hurts them.

I’m also concerned with what will happen to mainstream albums. The art of making an album subjectively seems as though it’s taken a hit in recent years with the continued growth of streaming. We all remember when Drake pretended a bunch of songs he threw together and sold was a “playlist” and not a bloated and overlong album. It was pretty clear that it was meant to be background noise 22 tracks longs for the extra streaming revenue. This doesn’t seem like it’s only limited to him, either. Jhene Aiko also released a 22 track album last year, Chris Brown released a 40-track monstrosity, and the new Migos album had 24 tracks. To me, all of this points to a trend in mainstream music where acts who know that they’re going to get a lot of streams are just going to milk that out for all it’s worth, and release massive albums that maximize their numbers, and ultimately, their revenue, at the cost of the actual quality of music they’re releasing. The effort and creativity it takes to structure and sequence an album could very well get thrown out, with artists opting to release projects that could end up as a pile of songs with no direction or purpose.

I don’t want to seem like the disappearance of CD is going to spell out doom for the music industry. However, I do think it’s irresponsible to essentially gut one of the easiest and most convenient ways of buying physical music. Of course, Best Buy and whatever other chains decide to follow suit don’t care, and they have no reason to. I do want to say, though, that I’m hoping this inspires people, ranging from avid collectors to those who might just want to pick an album up here or there, to visit their local record stores. While I’ve been picking up music when I can for close to 9 years now, it took until last month for me to step foot in a record store. That isn’t a good thing. Record stores are generally small businesses that survive solely on selling music, unlike chains like Best Buy and Target. I decided, even before this news broke, that I was taking my business away from said chains and putting my money into record stores, sites like UGHH, and other independent sellers.

Which reminds me, actually. When thinking about this, I can’t help but keep in mind that vinyl and cassette purchases have been on the rise over the last few years. Cassettes are still VERY niche, though, so that may not hold as much significance, but the fact that vinyl sales continue to grow does inspire a little confidence in me that physical media is still a factor in the music industry. What’s more is that there are some independent labels and artists who have not only sold vinyl and cassettes, but have used them to thrive; a label like Daupe Media comes to mind. I have no real understanding as to why this might be the case, but perhaps as ways of buying physical media continue to disappear, people become more interested in it as a novelty, and end up becoming collectors themselves. Who knows.

I know with me, my end goal is to essentially create a library of hip hop albums in various forms of physical media, as a way to preserve the music that has helped shape me. I feel like as avenues of purchasing physical albums go away, this sort of thing only becomes more and more important. I think any self-proclaimed lover of music owes it to themselves, and the artists they say they love, to pick up an album and dedicate space to it, to immortalize it. I’ve probably made a big deal out of nothing, because people can always go to Amazon to get the music they want, but I do feel a kind of way about this. Like with everything else (and possibly more so, given the cheaper options), physical media in music seems very much to be an “out of sight, out of mind” kind of product to most people. I believe that the further we go to remove it from stores where you can see and browse through it, the less people will consider buying it to begin with. That’s not something I’m very happy about.

Album Review: Walter Gross – The Fra Mauro Highlands

by Dustin

FMH

8.5/10

On January 31st, 1971 NASA would launch the eighth manned mission to the moon, Apollo 14. The three person crew kicked off the 9 day mission from Kennedy Space Center’s Launch Complex 39, before travelling to the Fra Mauro Highlands on the near side of the lunar surface. This would serve as the last of NASA’s simplistic (relatively speaking) H-Type missions to the moon, as they upgraded to the longer J-Type with Apollo 15. While this particular Apollo mission was relatively understated, its legacy lives on as a success during the booming age of space exploration. An era that had a particular vibe of wonder, and captured the imagination of individuals even outside the realm of science.

One may now be asking how this is relevant to music, and Walter Gross is the answer to that question. Though he may not have been an astronaut on the Apollo 14 mission (or even much of a space enthusiast, for that matter), his love of ambient concentrative music lead him to an interesting place of inspiration: the Voyager recordings. Finding himself endeared to the organic beauty of these pieces, he began work on his own out of this world experimentation. Quickly reaching full realization with a 23 minute (50 counting the Stray Signals Cassette Mix) long tape of atmospheric allure, The Fra Mauro Highlands. An album which would suitably see release on the 47th anniversary of Apollo 14.

Though it bares his name, The Fra Mauro Highlands was not the type of project one has come to expect from Walter Gross. It abandoned a lot of the crunchier, abrasive noise elements he’s become known for in the past, opting to try something a little more ambient instead. Once expectations were subverted however, this was a wonderful listening experience. It hit the flavor of desolate space music perfectly, and managed to feel cold while also inspiring a sense of adventure. There was a particular hint of retro-futurism to the tape, to the same vein as a movie like 2001: A Space Odyssey. This was due primarily to brilliant sound contrast constructed by Walter Gross. The entirety of The Fra Mauro Highlands had an underlying subtle ambiance of whooshing and swirling sounds that were distinctly galactic and harrowing. Atop of this there were moments of gorgeously vintage sounding synthetic instrumentation, used sparsely enough to maintain a sense of mechanical exploration through an all encompassing emptiness. It didn’t mess around with precisely divide tracks. Rather, this album was one continuous piece of music that built upon itself, evolving in a natural and off-the-cuff manner.

With all that in mind, there were aspects of The Fra Mauro Highlands carrying Walter’s signature touch. It was an immensely unsettling selection of work, with the emptiness and overall tone having created a strong sense of urgency and apprehensiveness of the unknown. With artistic anxiety being such a mainstay in his music, this familiarity was oddly comforting. It provided reassurance that this is exactly how the project was supposed to make one feel, and not an emotion to be avoided. The “Stray Signals Cassette Mix” which followed the conclusion of The Fra Mauro Highlands rewound things back a little further stylistically, while having maintained the same overall vibe. It wasn’t the star of the show by any means, but it was very good and really provided a feeling of returning home to the established fan of Walter Gross. A return after a fantastic journey.

Much like the Apollo 14 mission itself, The Fra Mauro Highlands will likely go down as one of Walter Gross’ most under-the-radar releases. While it was absolutely excellent, it appealed to a listener base even more niche than his signature barrage of noise. Which is unfortunate, because it was a stunningly beautiful, and somewhat anxious, ambient album. It wore its inspirations on its sleeve, and the ambition was undeniable. Do-it-Yourself music is about pushing limits, catching waves of inspiration, and trying things outside of the box just to see what will happen. Walter Gross did all of these things with The Fra Mauro Highlands. It embodied the spirit of the scene entirely, and should find itself respected as such.

Extraordinary Nobodies Top 15 Releases of 2017

by Dustin

2017-09-18

Well, it’s that time of year again. The end. You know what that means? Lots and lots of tip lists. Being that we’re a blog, we like to get in on the fun and do a top list every year too. More specifically, I like to do a top list. Rajin isn’t allowed, I make him post his on Twitter. Anyway, this list is not exclusive to hip-hop (even though that’s where most of our writing tends to lie), because there’s just too much good music coming out every year for that to be fair.

It’s also in descending order, so you’re going to have to scroll all the way to the bottom to find my favorite album of the year (or just look at the article photo, it might give you a clue). Thank you all so much for your support again this year! See you in 2018.


15. Godspeed You Black Emperor – Luciferian Towers
While Luciferian Towers may not be Godspeed’s best work, it’s absolutely still a powerhouse in it’s genre. The Canadian post-rock and drone group assembled an album that sounds hellishly disorienting throughout its entirety. Certainly a recommended listen, especially for those who dig the outfit’s previous releases. Of note was the very obvious jazz influence throughout the release. Favourite Track: “Anthem for No State.”

14. Willie the Kid & Vdon – Deutsche Marks
Taking influence from individuals like Roc Marciano, Willie the Kid and producer Vdon put together an excellent chamber rap EP. With ultra-luxurious lyrics, decadent vocals, and heavily revered sample driven production, Deutsche Marks was colder than a Michigan winter. Favourite Track: “Black Sinatra.”

13. Veiny Hands – Veiny Hands
Veiny Hands self-titled EP proved to be truly punk to the core, while also not being afraid to have fun with music. The vocals, instrumentation, and mixing felt to be deliciously throwback to early years of punk rock. It may not have been the most complex release of the year, but it would be difficult to find many others more genuine. It was a true spark plug album, and serves as an AED for the dying spirit on dreary days. There isn’t much else that can be said, really. Favourite Track: “Dirty Sheets.”

12. Roc Marciano – Rosebudd’s Revenge
Roc Marciano is the godfather of the aforementioned new wave of chamber rap, and Rosebudd’s Revenge demonstrated further why he’s had such a huge impact on the underground hip-hop scene. On this record Roc Marci flawlessly made an over the top criminal lifestyle sound as lavish and regal as running a fortune 500 company. The frigid and distinctly New York production provided the perfect ambient backdrop to his stories of debauchery and dealing. Favourite Track: “Marksmen (feat. Ka).”

11. Moor Hound – Green
Indie-folk singer/songwriter Moor Hound dropped Green near the start of 2017 and it held strong throughout to remain one of the best projects released. A warm, intimate, and emotional example of just how human the folk genre can be. It truly felt like a one on one session with Moor Hound – exactly as it should be – and could provide comfort even through the hardest of losses. He delivered an invitation to drop personal walls, by putting his own baggage on display for everyone to commiserate with. Favourite Track: “See You Around.”

10. Uncommon Nasa – Written at Night
Conceptually, Written at Night may have been the most interesting album to come out this past year. Focused on the thoughts and artistic outpouring experienced in the dead of night, this release was a collaborative effort between Nasa and his contemporaries. Perhaps its most interesting quality is the fact that the songs became more wild the later into “the night” the track list progressed. Great concept, great execution, and to top it all off the album sounded extremely New York. A recommended listen, especially for the fan of Def Jux early sounds. Favourite Track: “Written at Night (feat. Billy Woods & Quelle Chris).”

9. Billy Woods – Known Unkowns
Another album that appeals to the tastes of the Definitive Jux fans, Known Unknowns was about as east coast as it gets. When a rap veteran like Billy Woods teams up with a legendary underground producer like Blockhead (y’know, that guy who helped make Aesop Rock what he is today), there are going to be high expectations. This release met every single on, and then some. Woods’ delivery and writing style may take a bit to get used to for some, but it’s worth the effort. Trust. Favourite Track: “Bush League.”

8. Oddisee – The Iceberg
The latest installment in Oddisee’s discography packed no surprises, yet still ended up being one of the most formidable hip-hop releases this year. Chicken soup for the soul of individuals that grew up on acts like A Tribe Called Quest, The Iceberg was an attention grabbing album. Oddisee never strays that far from his comfort zone, but he put a lot of flair into his unique combination of technical prowess and socially charged lyricism. Any lack of variation in Oddisee’s sound was made up for in spades by his sheer talent. An excellent hip-hop record to the core. Favourite Track: “You Grew Up.”

7. Jonwayne – Rap Album Two
Rap Album Two saw Jonwayne take the listener to his most vulnerable places. Over whimsical melancholic throwback production he would spill his guts time after time, leaving nothing on the table. It was an emotionally challenging listening, but one well worth trying; moreover, this was a huge leap in quality from the rough around the edges Rap Album One. It was a treat to witness Jon seizing the potential he had displayed in flashes up to this point. Favourite Track: “Out of Sight.”

6. Quelle Chris – Being You is Great, I Wish I Could Be You More Often
Perhaps the closest to being a true one of a kind oddity on this list, Being You Is Great, I Wish I Could Be You More Often was one of the strangest releases in 2017. An enigmatic carnival of personality, invited the listener on an acid trip through his entire being. Off-kilter vocals tip-toed their way around astonishingly creative production to create a beautifully confusing record; more importantly however, it may be the first release of Quelle’s that felt entirely true to his enormous personality. Which, in all honesty, only served to make this album more incredible. Favourite Track: “Fascinating Grass (feat. Big Tone, Roc Marciano, and 87).”

5. Walter Gross – Vestige
While Walter Gross’ name may not ring familiar in the memory banks of the majority, he’s been a staple in the do-it-yourself music community for years and has a massive release history to sift through. Yet, through all these releases, Vestige is the grandest. Existing as a disgustingly tantalizing hybrid between hip-hop, post-punk, and noise, this album was a three headed monster hungry for listener’s eardrums. Favourite Track: “Good Morning.”

4. Algiers – The Underside of Power
The Underside of Power was damn near an indescribable listening experience, yet at the same time it was obnoxiously good. Though it took elements from gospel, hip-hop, industrial, and post-punk it truly was its own thing, and is impossible to peg into a genre. Here’s some things you should know though: the vocals are powerful, the instrumentation is powerful, and the songwriting is powerful. Seeing a trend? Kudos to Algiers. Favourite Track: “Walk Like a Panther.”

3. Milo – who told you to think??!!?!?!?!
While 2015’s so the flies don’t come established milo as an artist with the ability to be great, who told you to think??!!?!?!?! elevated him to being one of the most powerful young forces in the hip-hop realm. With verbose lyrics, dreamy beats, interesting flows, and oodles of emotional awareness, this album had just about everything one could want from a milo release; however, it’s all been elevated beyond anything he had release prior. In fact, some aspects of this album bolstered some folks claims that milo may be the MF DOOM of this generation. Favourite Track: “sorcerer.”

2. IDLES – Brutalism
Somewhere between old-school punk and modern post-punk, IDLES’ debut album Brutalism was born. Joe Talbot proved to be an excellent channel of anger and societal disgust, throwing hard hitting lyrics around like steel chair shots to the head. The absurdity of topics covered was often hammered home by repeating lyrics with various vocal inflections, and it worked splendidly. The instrumentation on Brutalism swung between hyperactive blind rage and anxious droning, bringing some interesting spins on conventional punk rock ideas. The record was relentless and offered listeners zero time to breathe. Suffocating had never been such a pleasure. Favourite track: “Mother.”

1. Open Mike Eagle – Brick Body Kids Still Daydream
The definitive album of 2017. Brick Body Kids Still Daydream was the perfect blend of frustrated, confused, cheeky, confident, and poignant. Open Mike Eagle created a masterpiece of solidarity for individuals tied to project homes; moreover, his attempts to inspire pride in poorer upbringings were heartwarmingly genuine. Bolstered with quick witted social analysis and wondrous production, Brick Body Kids Still Daydream was the well deserved album of the year in 2017. Favourite Track: “Brick Body Complex.”

S. Reidy Discusses Until the Darkness Comes, Mental Health Concerns, and Putting in Work

by Dustin

sreidy

Not long ago, we were approached by an artist with an album – a regular occurrence as a music blog. Something was different this time though…the music had a different feel to it. It was genuine, unique, and encapsulated the alternative hip-hop vibe without derivation. After a few weeks (or a month, sorry Shawn) of sitting on the album, it became apparent that a review simply would not be enough. When an up and coming musician drops something as fully realized as Until the Darkness Comes, the most important things that can be said will only come from the artist in question. That’s why we’re here today. To discuss a project, among other things, with an emcee following their own vibe and nobody else’s.

Ladies and gentlemen, S. Reidy:


EN: First and foremost, I’d like to invite you to introduce yourself a little bit. A bit of a self-bio for readers who might be unaware of you as a person. Who is S. Reidy?

S. Reidy: S. Reidy is a rapper from Norman, Oklahoma. He likes to blend hip hop, emo, and indie music, and has opened up for acts like The Palmer Squares, Milo, Open Mike Eagle, and even bands like Walter Etc. He’s also remarkably handsome and has held hands with females on many occasions.

EN: Before we jump into discussing your album, I did want to ask something about coming from Oklahoma. It’s not a state really known for its hip-hop scene. When you were growing up and being exposed to music, what sort of rap was it that you were hearing most predominantly?

S. Reidy: When I was in 7th grade that’s when Soulja Boy was popping off, and man I hated it. I was way more into My Chemical Romance and Senses Fail and stuff like that. But around 10th grade Lil Wayne dropped the song 6 foot 7, and that was the game changer [laughs]. That song was so full of jokes, and personality. Subconsciously I think when I started discovering that, I was destined to become a hip hop artist.

But you know, to answer the question, I was just exposed to all the really popular music. Some dumb study was made recently saying “Rap just took over Rock as the most popular music”, but I honestly feel like it’s been that way for almost 10 years. Especially when that’s what a 16 year old boy from Oklahoma was most exposed to.

EN: You were exposed to popular rap, but do you feel like the other genres you were into really helped shape your sound too? You mentioned My Chemical Romance and Senses Fail, and I know guys like Open Mike Eagle consider their outside influences (They Might Be Giants in his case) to be like, equally as important as the rap they grew up on.

S. Reidy: Oh yeah, absolutely. You can definitely hear a similar brand of white kid angst in my music as those bands [laughs]; however, my sound was really shaped by other genres I listened to once I graduated high school and started listening to more wordy and nerdy artists like Neutral Milk Hotel, Sufjan Stevens, Walter Etc., and stuff like that. Oh, and definitely Pedro the Lion too.

EN: With that in mind, do you feel like coming from somewhere without an established hip-hop sound gives you a bit more of a blank canvas when approaching your own music? Because to me it seems as if you’d be pretty removed from influences and pressures to sound a certain way to fit with the scene.

S. Reidy: It definitely was a strange advantage, but honestly I feel like I’d be making this music no matter where I came from. I’ve always been the kind of guy to do something different just for the sake of balancing out what the norm is.

EN: When I was listening to your album I noticed that – but it also felt very natural to you. Some people seem to really force trying to be “different” just for the sake of it. How important is being genuine in music to you?

S. Reidy: Its everything to me. It’s cliche, but when you take time to really mediate on who you are, and what makes you yourself, everything starts to fall in line, because at the end of it all it’s very clear that you’re the only person who can be you. I didn’t mean to turn the interview into an after school special there… but what are you gonna do [laughs]?

EN: So, when someone gets a chance to listen to Until the Darkness Comes, there’s no playing. It’s just an honest to goodness part of Shawn Reidy being put on display?

S. Reidy: Oh yes. It might not be exactly who I am as person at this very moment, but it’s all feelings, stories and emotions I’ve dealt with the past 2 years or so.

EN: Almost like reflecting on a diary?

S. Reidy: Man… I’ve never thought of it that way, but that is exactly what it is. Someone on YouTube reviewed my album and called it musical meandering, which I though was also super accurate [laughs].

EN: Did you set out with the intention of having the record be an open book about yourself, and experiences, or is that what comes naturally to you when writing lyrics?

S. Reidy: You’re nailing all of these questions right on the head [laughs]. I absolutely do, and that goes into what I was saying earlier about how if you can truly sit down and block out all the worlds expectations of you, and just be yourself, you’ll never have a problem trying to be unique.

EN: Is there a particular aspect of the album that you’re most proud of as an artist?

S. Reidy: Oh dude, by far what I’m most proud of is the distinct sound I was able to come up with on this record. All my other projects sound so scattered as far as a cohesive sound goes. This project is my first that really feels like an album.

EN: Do you feel that being hands on with all stages of the album allowed you to achieve that cohesion? Was that the reason you sought to be the driving force behind all stages of its development, from production to lyrics?

S. Reidy: Oh for sure. I recommend it to everyone. Don’t wait for other people and influences to come and change your sound up. Listen to everything, and engulf yourself in it. Find identity in the music you listen to, and don’t just listen to one or two genres. If you love music, then love music, you know? And then you don’t have to rely on a producer or another musician to help you craft a sound. At least that’s what’s worked for me [laughs].

Just also make sure you get hella opinions from your friends and family, because you don’t wanna get too inside yourself either. Find a happy medium. That’s what I’d recommend.

EN: I’m curious about what your construction process was like for this album. Did you approach creating beats with topical ideas already in mind, or did you produce first, and then figure out what would fit?

S. Reidy: Most of these songs I wrote the best first, and based it on a feeling. After the beat was done I wrote all the lyrics to the song in like 10 minutes or so just to get my rawest response I could from the track, and I would clean it up from there. I’ve been writing songs that way for awhile now.

Guess I kind of just gave away my secret recipe [laughs].

EN: Now, obviously we can’t tell people how to enjoy art – but would you encourage people to approach your album as a full listen rather than just picking and choosing songs to play?

S. Reidy: I don’t know if I would encourage people to, but if you like digging into albums there is more than enough here to really sink your teeth into. If you just wanna hear my popular songs you can do that too though [laughs]. But you’re not gonna get the most out of the album that way.

EN: Popular songs aside, what’s your top three songs off the album, and why?

S. Reidy: Woah, jeez that’s hard…I’m sure this answer would change in thirty minutes too [laughs]. For now though, I wanna say: “Galavanting” because of visceral production and the cool lyrics, “Blackout” just because I feel like it’s uplifting without being corny, and probably “Nobody Nose” because of the guitar and the sweet hook.

EN: Is there a particular lyric you’re most fond of on this record? One that maybe stands out to you as some of your best work.

S. Reidy: That’s also so remarkably hard…when I think about it long enough, I think maybe the line “bagged eyes screaming in your pillows till they drip/ Till you find one day you weren’t crazy to begin with.” I think if you had to describe the album in one line it would be that one.

EN: It’s lyrics like that which made it feel to me like you had a lot to say, particularly in the realm of mental health. We spoke about it a bit beforehand, but just how much does it mean to you to be able to speak freely and candidly about those issues?

S. Reidy: You know I was thinking the other day about how almost every song on the album is about mental health one way or another. Depression is something I had to deal with for two years a couple of years ago. As best as I can I like to open up discussions on mental health and try to help people work out whatever they’re going through, as artfully and carefully as I can.

EN: When including mental health as a topic artistically, do you feel it important to actively attempt to not sound as if you’re glamorizing the “tortured artist” mindset?

I ask because having gone through depression myself, some of the music this newer generation of artists produces can be scary. Like, depression has almost become a brand. But then I see artists like you who approach it more candidly (as mentioned), and I wonder if that’s a conscious effort.

S. Reidy: It’s not conscious as much as it is just a reflection of my reality that depression is really ugly. It’s dark, deep, and numbing, at least it was for me.

As far as acts on the other end tend to sway, I never want to be a person to tell someone how to live their life. This zeitgeist of Instagram depression, is worrisome in the sense that if I had seen more of this stuff when I was depressed, I would have felt very belittled. It’s also dangerous because when people who genuinely are depressed might find some hollow fulfillment in stepping into the more glamorous side of depression, and the lines start to blur between what’s real, and what’s the act you’re putting on.
Once again, I’m not trying to tell anyone how to deal with their depression, everyone does differently. But artist and fans need to start approaching these things with a different attitude, because we’re seeing the repercussions of not taking depression seriously right before our eyes.

EN: I think the Lil Peep death in general exposed that blurred line between reality and act, that you just mentioned. People close to him are saying he was “performing like people in the WWE,” and that it was a character. But at the same time, you would have to be suffering from something mentally to be abusing drugs and thinking it’s okay to put on a depression act. The glitz and glamour that a lot of people put behind it, I think, distracts from taking it seriously. Which is a shame because a lot of people are losing their battles with these issues. And even someone like Eyedea who was very blunt about his mental state and addiction issues ended up succumbing to it.

How do you think musicians as a collective can approach things different to help mental illness be taken more seriously?

S. Reidy: That’s a really really good question, and I don’t believe that there is one answer to it.

I think the best catch all solution you’ll find here, is to make music honest to yourself. Don’t compromise hard to digest topics for music that’s easy to listen to. And do what artists are put on this earth to do. Be vulnerable.

And as listeners we need to actively pay attention to the struggle of these artists and open up discussions on how we can put all of ourselves in a better situation.

EN: Do you think that the vulnerability could also inspire others to open up to their family and friends about issues they’re experiencing? Given that even underground musicians can be huge role models to their fan base. Especially to younger teens and kids.

S. Reidy: One can only hope man… I just do what I can to the best of my ability and hope that it’s enough. Hopefully our best really is good enough when it comes down to it.

EN: Sort of touching on something topical right now, what are your thoughts on the idea (presented by DJBooth originally) that underground hip-hop is dead due to the accessibility of artists online?

S. Reidy: [Laughs]. Oh that thing huh? You know I don’t have much of an opinion about it honestly. I think I understand what they think they were saying, but if you think there’s no difference between an artist like Drake and WIKI I think your opinions are a little misguided.

But I mean, I can’t change that writers definition of mainstream and underground. It is what it is.

EN: Do you ever worry about a music writer stumbling upon your music and misconstruing things you say? Media coverage can be big, but I imagine it could be frustrating if something was read into entirely incorrectly.

S. Reidy: That’s happened to me before in a super minor way. But honestly I’m not that worried about that kind of stuff, I know in my heart that I’m a good person and if anyone every tries to challenge that based on something I’ve said or did, I have no problem confronting that.

It’s a weird hobby folks have now, attempt to twist things any which way just to ruin someone. It’s pretty lame to be honest. It’s almost of a matter of when they’re gonna come for you rather than if. But I’m 100% prepared for that kind of thing, because once again, I know my intentions, and I never mean any form of harm on anyone or anything.

EN: So you try to be genuine not only in your music and candidness with difficult subjects (such as mental illness), but also in your approach to tour music career?

S. Reidy: I mean, I don’t see any better way of approaching it. I truly believe if you’re a good person, you have nothing to hide. And if people try to chastise you for the life you’re living, just continue being the best person you can be, and the universe always has a way of paying you back.

EN: Does it ever get intimidating opening for more established acts than yourself? I imagine it’s an amazing opportunity, but if I was in that position I would be terrified.

S. Reidy: [Laughs]. Honestly, performing is the easy part. The hard part is being backstage with these artists and acting like I don’t want to take a million pictures, ask them about all their albums, and see if they wanna do a mixtape together. I’m a music dork just as much as I am an artist, so the scary part when performing with these acts is attempting to not look like a dingus in front of my heroes…

EN: Do you ever get the opportunity to soak up any wisdom from them during the process though?

S. Reidy: I mean… I started writing this album after me and milo had an hour long conversation in my garage [laughs]. I wish I could record all the conversation I’ve had with these other artists, because when I talk to them I’m always thinking “these are the words of a person with the mindset it takes to get where they are.”

EN: Do you find that these established guys have a different outlook on things than your average indie emcee who hasn’t quite figured themselves out yet? As in, I guess I mean… Do they speak about things differently?

S. Reidy: I don’t think it’s a different outlook, I think it’s just knowledge.

What I’m learning more about the people I look up to the closer I get to them, is the fact that these are people who have made a thousands of mistakes. But mistakes don’t discourage them, and they’re super happy to make them, because all that means is that they know exactly how not to do what they’re wanting to do. The confidence in yourself to remember what it was that got you where you are. That’s the kind of wisdom I’m working towards.

EN: Say a young artist approached you tomorrow, and they were extremely frustrated with their own music due to making mistakes and not hitting the mark they’ve set for themselves – what sort of advice would you pass on to them?

S. Reidy: [Laughs]… Dude unfortunately I’m terrible at motivational speeches.

My whole thing is, do you love music? Can you not picture your life without creating? Then you don’t need motivation from me. I hate when people tell me they want to make music but they never feel inspired. Like, dude, you’re never inspired? Nothing inspires you? You need to either broaden your horizons, or just admit that music isn’t what you’re supposed to do. I know that sounds harsh [laughs], but being an artist is work, if you aren’t willing to clock in to your job, then quit. You know?

EN: Plus like…do you even think inspiration is necessary to get started in art? For me anyway, in my music production side project, there are times when I’m totally not inspired, but I can still sit any play around with things and try something new. Then when I’m feeling it emotionally, I can really sit down and apply those things. There’s something to be said for just messing around and learning too, don’t you agree?

S. Reidy: Or just listening to different guitar tones for an hour and seeing which one you like more, or trying ever single drum groove you can think of that might compliment the melody of the song. Studio time and creative space isn’t always fireworks and magic, and I think that’s a big misconception among new artists.

EN: Do you think they only see end results from their favorite artists and maybe assume that just happens, without considering all the foundations that are laid first?

S. Reidy: That’s absolutely the problem, or people are just to caught up in wanting to be rockstars that’s they don’t understand that 80% of it isn’t even fun. Not that work isn’t fun, but you have to love it.

EN: Word. I think that’s a valuable lesson that everyone making music needs to learn eventually. So, I do gotta ask, what’s next for you now that you’ve released this album? What steps do you take to keep advancing your music career?

S. Reidy: I’m gonna just keep recording music, videos, do tour, interviews, tweet Anthony Fantano 43 times a day to review my album, and do the DIY thing with it man.

An Open Letter to DJ Booth & DJ Z: Underground Hip-Hop is Not Dead

by Dustin

Canada1

On November 27th, 2017, DJ Booth pronounced underground hip-hop dead. DJ Z regretfully informed us that due to the ease of accessing new artists – due in part to streaming services becoming dominant methods of music consumption – that “the underground is the new mainstream.” Of course, he supported this statement with many examples including (and entirely limited to) the fact that Xavier Wulf has a couple tens of thousands of followers on a few social and music media platforms. This article, for lack of a better description, misconstrued the entire of the underground. Below is an open letter that I have written to the publication and author. They may never read it, but these are things that need to be said.

To DJ Z and anyone from DJ Booth,

I’m going to start by explaining to you what “underground” actually is, since you seem to have a gross misunderstanding of the term. It is not a sub-genre label like “trap” or “conscious hip-hop” as you stated in your article. In fact, the artists that make up the underground span a wide variety of styles in the realm of hip-hop; I would be so bold as to say that every single corner of hip-hop has underground artists. You know why? Because an underground artist is simply an artist that exists outside of the mainstream consciousness in music. Claiming that somebody is now in the mainstream because they’ve got a hundred thousand followers on Twitter is absolutely ludicrous. They’re doing quite well in the context of underground music, but they’re nowhere near the mainstream in terms of popularity. No amount of accessibility to music changes that fact.

Let’s look at a bit of a hypothetical situation to make this point more clear. If you went out and took a survey of the general population, most will know of artists like Eminem, Jay-Z, Drake, Future, Lil Wayne, and Kendrick Lamar regardless of whether or not they actually listen to their music. These artists have firmly rooted themselves in the mainstream consciousness. Now, go out and ask the general population who Xavier Wulf is, and I think you’ll be shocked to find out that barely anybody has a clue. In fact, at the time of writing this article, Xavier Wulf does not even have a page on Wikipedia. Yet, you’re calling him mainstream and using him as proof that underground hip-hop is dead? How does one make that jump logically? That’s not a shot at him either, he’s got a large cult following, but he’s absolutely still an underground artist in the scope of hip-hop and music as a whole. You would have to be brain dead to claim otherwise.

Do you want to know why Xavier Wulf – and seemingly the entire hip-hop community – was upset at the claim that underground music doesn’t exist anymore? Because you are discrediting the insane amount of work he, and other musicians of similar stature, put into their careers in order to even have a career in the first place. It’s not easy to make it in music, and writing as if the internet has made it a cakewalk is of the utmost disrespect. Artists like him, Open Mike Eagle, Busdriver, Billy Woods, Uncommon Nasa, clipping., Fatt Father, Aesop Rock, and hundreds of others don’t have well established careers because the internet made them mainstream. They have impressive careers because they work their asses off in the underground to maintain their place; moreover, you’ve also spat in the faces of thousands of dedicated artists who haven’t even established their footing within the underground yet. But by all means, tell a rapper like MCrv, or label owner like Michael at FilthyBroke Recordings that the underground is the new mainstream. They will turn around and laugh directly at you, because it is very nearly the dumbest statement you could make.

The underground is alive, and it’s thriving. Publications like ourselves and many others being allowed to exist and work with so many beautiful artists globally is a testament to this. Stop disrespecting the genre that you eat off of for attention with sensationalized articles with zero supporting evidence. You are letting down hip-hop, and music journalism. The underground community will still be thriving in every single genre of music long after your publication, and mine, are nothing but a fading memory in the distance. You’re not an artist, DJ Z, maybe stop making claims about the world that they exist in, and start taking the time to listen to what they have to say about “the underground.” You might learn something if you open your ears and shut your mouth, just for a second.

Sincerely,
Dustin
Extraordinary Nobodies

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.