Album Review: Niku No Sekai – Flesh World Vol. 1

by Dustin

fleshworld

7.25/10

For nearly eight months we have regularly been reviewing albums here at Extraordinary Nobodies. Between our standard reviews of new releases, and the brand new “why was it good” retrospective category, it’s safe to say that we really love reviewing music. Yet, if one was to sort through our review archives they’d notice something odd… We have reviewed zero instrumental albums! This seems like a bit of a tragedy, as instrumental releases have been a big part of hip-hop forever.

Yet, the first instrumental album we’re going to have a look at isn’t even necessarily a hip-hop release! It is more of an ambient record, but it shares a lot of elements that instrumental hip-hop fans will be familiar with! This is particularly true for those who are interested in the alternative side of production. Plus, we do what we want. Fuck genres.

Moving on…

The album in question is Flesh World Vol. 1, a collaborative effort between two established artists (of SCRTS and Chinatown’s Pormer) released under the name Niku No Sekai. This project came out under the relatively young DOOMTRIP Records, a label which specializes in cassette based releases (you should follow them on twitter, sometimes they do awesome download code giveaways). Flesh World Vol. 1 was recorded on new years day, and saw release on DOOMTRIP in April.

So we’re a little behind the times here, but again, we do what we want.

Flesh World Vol. 1 is perhaps one of the most atmospheric releases to come out this year. The overall vibe to the tape is very chilled out, spacey, and slightly unnerving. It is not a long release by any means, but the sound is very cohesive throughout. Those who are already acquainted with ambient releases will most likely love Flesh World Vol. 1. It sounds like space. Listening to this album is like taking a trip through the galaxy while stoned.

The use of distance and beat changes on Flesh World really gives it life. Five tracks feels more like seven or eight, and there is a tangible environment with every second of playback. Though it’s ambient, the record isn’t afraid to grab your attention and force you to focus. The opening track, “WW4”, is a prime example of this. It has some really interesting switch-ups; moreover, the track is over ten minutes long but doesn’t feel dull for a second.

It is a dense piece of art. Don’t mistake “ambient” with “empty”, because this tape is immensely dense listening. Flesh World Vol. 1 is a record that will eventually demand your full attention, even if it does also make excellent casual listening. It is musically interesting enough to be much more than simply background noise. It certainly feels like there is a new sound to discover with every subsequent listen.

There are just so many things happening at once. It is a delightful and fun chunk of material to sink your teeth into.

For the hip-hop fans reading this blog wondering if they should give this tape a listen, yes, you definitely should. If you’re a fan of the stoned-out sound found in the cloud rap scene, this tape is probably going to be right up your ally. It’s a more developed sound as a product of needing to stand out without vocals, but there are clear similarities. Give it a listen, you probably will not be disappointed. Maybe you’ll even discover a new genre that you’ll enjoy.

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

by Dustin

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Which I do, very much [laughs].

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

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

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

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

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

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

MCrv: I appreciate that man, thank you.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Apu Rambles: Sex, Money, & Drugs

by Apu (yeah, he’s alive)

rhh

Well shit, it’s been a while. I’m sure most of the readers of this little blog here were pretty happy with not having the site polluted with my awfulness for the last 3 months or so…I really just didn’t have any motivation to write anything. Maybe it’s because I mentally checked out after school ended, and now that I’m back in a course I’ve got more activity happening in my brain, thus creating the desire to write. Although the more likely explanation for my writing tonight is probably liquor. Regardless, I’ve got something new for you to read and roll your eyes at. Although it might be shorter than normal so there’s that.

As I may or may not have talked about at some point in any one of my fairly insignificant additions to this blog, I started listening to hip hop music around the time of Youtube’s creation. It was pretty good for me, as a person who had next to nobody to discuss hip hop music with. I spent a lot of time on Youtube looking for more music to listen to. At the beginning, I spent my time listening to a lot of Eminem and D-12. Over the next couple of years I did branch out to others like 2Pac, Nas, and others who I could list if I didn’t want to just shut up and get on with my story. While viewing videos (which were usually just audio with stills of incorrect album covers) by the artists I was listening to, I would find myself going down into the comment section. I started to notice a certain pattern in the comments to the artists I was listening to. There would be one comment that would almost always pop up. It’s a statement that I have nightmares about that involve knives, lube, and Mountain Dew. It’s what you’ll probably see coming from “real hip hop” heads. It’s toxic.

“He raps about real life and struggle, not bitches, drugs, and money like everyone else does!”

Jesus Christ, I hate myself for just typing that.

Now, I’m not going to lie and say I didn’t agree with that for a period of time. For a good 3 or 4 years I had that same sort of mindset. But now that I’m not a shitty 15 year old kid anymore, I realize how stupid it is to not listen to some rappers or songs because they’re not meaningful.

NOT EVERYTHING NEEDS TO HAVE MEANING TO IT.

Crazy, right?

I don’t know. I guess I understand the reasoning behind the idea that music needs to be deep. A lot of the time when I’m in a shitty mood (so most of the time) it’s nice to listen to something with a message behind it that I can relate to. Actually, it’s also pretty nice to listen to a song that I can’t relate to, but can still feel bitter over. It sort of validates the way I’m feeling or the way I think I’d feel if I were in a certain situation. It creates a sort of bond between listener and artist that makes the listener feel like he or she (hooray for gender equal descriptions!) is less alone. I get it. I’ve felt that, plenty of times. It’s definitely something that should be encouraged, as it’s almost a more intimate bond than any friendship or other sorts of relationships can create, because it’s your own raw emotion that you can feel and express without any fear of judgement from others, since there’s nobody else involved in listening to a song. I can’t tell you how often I will sometimes randomly just get misty-eyed for no reason, just because I’m still not the most mentally healthy person in the world and I hear something in music that triggers a raw emotional response.

However (I’ll say it again for extra emphasis since I’m terrible at getting my point across with all the tangents I can’t help but take), that doesn’t mean that all music needs to have a meaning to it. Far from it, actually.

Remember when I did that article on Prof and mentioned how I was going through shit? One of the reasons I gravitated towards Prof almost exclusively for 4 months or so is because he made a tone of ignorant music that I could just listen to, chill to, chuckle to, and ignore my pain to. Sure, Prof releases a lot of emotional shit. “A Month From Now” still puts me in a trance every time I listen to it, and it’s been at least 3 months since I first discovered it. But a lot of the time, I’ll throw on “Apeshit” or “Roughneck” when I’m feeling shitty instead. I don’t need to constantly be reminded how fucked up my mood is by listening to a song that matches it. Sometimes I need to just listen to something that has absolutely nothing to do with anything, just because it’s fun. How does keeping myself down with sad and dark music help me in any way move on?

Whatever happened to “laughter is the best medicine”? Does that suddenly stop applying when it comes to hip hop? This genre is absolutely incredible and I’ll love it forever, but I swear, some of the fans are just fucking idiots. It’s like they want to wallow in their own misery with the artists they listen to, or reinforce the fact that the world is totally and completely screwed and that we’re headed towards destruction (a topic that I can probably talk about forever, but doesn’t apply to this piece much more than that one sentence).

I don’t know where this “ugh this has no substance” mindset came from, and I wish I did. Not everything needs to make you think. I don’t really care if my opinion on this matter makes me come off as even stupider than you all probably already thought I was, but I’d rather read if I wanted to think (and trust me, I read plenty, I love reading). People can tell me that’s retarded all they want, because I’m sure that those same people probably don’t fucking read to begin with. If I’m really, really sad, I’ll listen to something that I can relate to, something powerful that’s cathartic for me to listen to. But if I’m just feeling down like normal, I probably want to listen to something that’ll get me in better spirits and uplift me.

It’s almost sad how much people hate to listen to lighthearted, meaningless music. People will essentially dismiss artists like Lil Wayne, not because of skill levels or anything (I’m not the biggest Wayne fan in the world but the man can fucking rap), but because of the type of music he makes. People talk about how he doesn’t make real shit, and it’s all vapid, and shit like that. Well, my question is, why the fuck do you care? So what if he makes vapid music? How does it affect you as a person, when you just have the option to not listen and choose something else instead of complaining?

And it’s not even really about that, either. What really amuses me about the hatred of new-school hip hop is how these so-called old-school fans, these “real hip hop heads”, say that the only hip hop that’s good is the deeper shit, and that’s why new shit sucks. These fucking mongoloids seem to forget that hip hop was founded on celebratory music. It was music that people danced and partied to. Shit, break-dancing is supposed to be one of the main pillars of hip hop, isn’t it? To my knowledge, the socially-aware aspect of hip hop didn’t become something that was really widespread until the late ‘80s. Before then, it was primarily partying, having a good time, bragging about how good you are, and topics of that sort. Why is it that hip hop can’t still occasionally be about that just because something new was introduced to it? Now, the keyword here is “occasionally”. I’m not saying that the only hip hop that’s worth a shit is empty nonsense. I’m just saying that that sort of music should be able to co-exist with the realer shit, too.

Somewhat related, I would like to also ask…why is it that rappers who sound like they’re being lyrical as shit and socially conscious by essentially just rhyming a lot and using metaphors that reference current social issues, while actually saying nothing but gibberish, get so much more praise than those who are upfront about the fact that they say nothing of importance? I personally find when a rapper is talking irreverent shit about having fun to be better than when a rapper just rhymes a lot of nonsense while trying to sound deep. At least the fun rapper is actually saying something, as opposed to masticating the English language until it becomes almost caveman-like just to fool people into thinking that they’re really good at rapping. They’re not trying to pretend to be anything that they’re not. They’re just having a good time while the “lyrical” rappers are just acting like they’re fucking messiahs to the people, because that’s how their audience treats them for being able to relate something to a truck running over people in France while rhyming every other word, even if they’re made-up words. Hip hop fans for some reason have got some over 4 hour long Viagra hard-ons for rhymes that sound intelligent while being unintelligible, and they need to get over it. But again, a topic of discussion for another time.

All I’m saying is that life isn’t all about staying paranoid and keeping up with the latest conspiracies that rappers are coming up with to try to make themselves seem smart (I’m looking at you, Immortal Technique). There are several aspects of life, and one (or more) of those aspects is enjoying yourself. At the end of the day, being alive really has absolutely no reason behind it. The least you can do is embrace and enjoy the absurdity of life. In our modern society, I believe part of that is listening to absurd, vapid music. All you’re doing is removing yourself from a part of your life that is pretty essential to living with at least somewhat decent mental health. You’re not fooling anybody by listening to so-called “smart” music.

I really don’t know where to go from here. I’m on the verge of writing about how life is essentially meaningless so there’s no reason why music can’t be meaningless as well, but I feel like that’s a pretty bad idea, so I’ll sign off and send this to Dustin. I think I’ve made my point, but if not, I’ll do a tl;dr version of it right here: Stop being a pretentious fuckwad and enjoy some music to party to. It’s not a bad thing to actually enjoy yourself, you delusional masochists

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

by Dustin

swish

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

SWISH: Definitely.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Album Review: Mr. Lif – Don’t Look Down

by Dustin

mmrlif

7.5/10

Mr. Lif, one of the earliest members of the now defunct Definitive Jux record label, has been on somewhat of a hiatus… His last solo release came way back in 2009, but the time is finally right for his return to hip-hop. He has found a new home on the independent powerhouse Mello Music Group, which plays host to his fourth solo album, Don’t Look Down.

Lif has a reputation of quality, with all of his prior releases receiving critical acclaim. While many musicians lose a step when being away from their art for an extended period of time, Don’t Look Down continues this trend of excellence from Mr. Lif. The underground veteran has seamlessly picked up where he left off, delivering a pleasurable listen.

Don’t Look Down may not knock your socks off, but you will not walk away from it disappointed.

Well I’m sitting at my table now, hands crossed, blast off,
Thinking about some opportunities that I had passed on,
Hindsight is 20/20, thinking isn’t helping any,
Drinking will just serve to end me.
(Everyday We Pray)

Lif’s rapping was really enjoyable on this album. His writing is as strong as ever, and can be quite unique in structure. He’s not afraid to switch between poetic approaches, personal analysis, and even to delve into the more abstract. Don’t Look Down is the type of album that deserves multiple listens, if for no reason other than to digest the lyrics. As is the case with most emcees who came up in the same scene as Mr. Lif, his style can be pretty dense; moreover, Don’t Look Down has relatively quick pacing, so there will undoubtedly be things you miss on the first play-through.

That is to say, if the record doesn’t click with you on the first listen, don’t be afraid to give it another chance. It may only be 36 minutes long, but Mr. Lif packs an incredible amount of content into this running time.

I used to look up at night and see the sky,
Now I am the sky,
Now the planets I,
Used to use a telescope to see,
Are a part of me,
I’ve got Saturn in my arteries.
(Don’t Look Down)

Some of the production on this record is very reminiscent of the early 2000s Definitive Jux sound. “Whizdom” in particular has a wonderfully unorthodox instrumental. It manages to be head-nodding and addictive while simultaneously sounding like an ink-jet printer grinding out a thirty-two page university paper. That being said, Don’t Look Down does take on a more conventional approach at times as well. There is enough variation to keep the album sounding fresh throughout while not losing cohesion.

It should also be mentioned that every single instrumental compliments Mr. Lif’s vocals nicely. He clearly had a concrete direction in mind during beat selection, and it shows in the final product.

While Don’t Look Down may not exactly be comparable to I Phantom, it is a glimpse at a more mature Mr. Lif and should be approached with that in mind. It’s a very easy album to enjoy. Don’t Look Down is short, content dense, and while it’s certainly alternative, it still seems like an easy album for new listeners to jump into. For longtime fans, it will be a pleasure to hear new material after a long hiatus, especially since he delivers so well with this release.

Welcome back Mr. Lif.

Apu Rambles: FreeBeat42 (Give the Producer Some)

by Apu

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I don’t know if it’s just me being an illiterate idiot or not, but I get the sense that a lot of producers don’t get the credit that they’re due. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been involved in an exchange like the following:

Person: “Yo man check [generic rapper] out, he’s awesome”
Me: “Oh cool, play something for me”
Person plays a song with a mediocre rapper over a beat hot as Satan’s STD-infected dick while taking a piss
Person: “Pretty sick, right?”
Me: “I guess. I thought the guy was pretty whatever”
Person: “Shit, really? The beat is fucking crazy!”

Wow, I should become a playwright, I obviously have a knack for dialogue… Anyways, yeah. People listen to a song and love it because of the work that the producer put in, and the rapper whose name is on the song will get all the credit for the song. This has been happening for basically the entirety of the last decade that I’ve been listening to hip hop music, and might have been happening since even before that. I wouldn’t know though. There aren’t too many people in the general public who’ll say “Wow, I gotta find out who produced this track!” This trend doesn’t apply exclusively to hip hop either, pop music fans are probably the biggest offenders. “Hip hop heads” are different, they love to know who produce tracks because they understand that the producer is an instrumental element of the music that they listen to, pun intended. However, actual “hip hop heads” make up a small percentage of music listeners, and are probably even a small percentage of people who listen to hip hop regularly.

It’s something that I think most people don’t really think about unless they themselves make music (and even then, you’ll get the divas who don’t give a shit and attribute all of their success to their “talent”, which tends to be wailing into a mic over great beats and relying on the engineer to fix the audio).

When it comes to bands, I find that people will praise the band as a unit. Listeners will talk about how ill a guitar solo or drum solo is when it comes on, so even though the lead singer will still probably get the most notoriety, the other members do get their praise at points. Re-read that sentence and ridicule me about how obvious it is that I don’t know shit about bands. When a song is produced by someone other than the artist who “makes” the song and there’s an instrumental interlude, people don’t say “oh shit, listen to what the producer just did”. And I know some people will say “well, playing an instrument isn’t the same thing as producing something with a program so it’s not like it’s as impressive as a band member getting a solo”. Sure, it’s not the same as playing an instrument. That doesn’t change the fact that producing is really hard to do if you want to make actually good, professional-sounding beats to compete with the best of them. You need to be able to come up with catchy melodies in your own head, decide on which instrument sounds will fit the melodies the best, create a drum-line, make sure to fill the beat with sounds so that it doesn’t sound empty and amateur, add more to break up hooks and verses, chop samples in clever ways so they don’t become loops of the original…and that’s just what I know about.

I’m not a producer, so there’s sure to be more that I’m not aware of.

It doesn’t help when people like Lupe Fiasco talk about how producers get paid too much. Remember when he called out “overcharging producers” on Twitter? Sure, some producers charge a lot of money, but is that really any different from a rapper charging a lot for a guest verse? A guest rapper offers what he can to the song, which is vocals, and a producer offers what he can to the song, which is a beat. A rapper who starts getting famous and raps with other higher profile rappers charges more, and a producer who works with higher profile rappers charges more. It’s the same principle. Actually, on second thought, it’s not, because you can make a good album without any guest rappers on it, but if you can’t produce, I don’t really think you can make an album worth shit without the help of producers.

Without producers, rappers would be rapping acapella, maybe with a beat made from hitting a table or something at the most, but overall it would just be mainly vocals. I imagine that would become very monotonous, and people wouldn’t bother listening. There would be a lack of variety that can only come from different beats, and there would be a huge element missing in the emotional attachment of the music to the listeners. There’s a reason why people love listening to beat tapes but nobody really gives a fuck about acapella versions of albums… Unless they want to throw the vocals onto another beat.

You know, one that a producer made.

Not to mention, there are countless rappers who have said something along the lines of “I listen to the beat and do what it tells me”. A beat sets the tone, and can elicit a reaction in an artist that helps him or her think of what to write. I don’t know. If I, as stupid as I am, can understand that, I don’t get why Lupe can’t. Maybe he was just in his one of his “I’m gonna rap the ‘Obama is the real terrorist’ line over and over for 20 minutes, the crowd will love that!” moods. All I know is that “Overcharging producers. You’re not the rappers who have rapped on your beats. #Needed2BeSaid” can easily be flipped to “Overpaid rappers. You’re not the producers who have given you the backdrop on which you write, flow, perform, and essentially use to become famous, as opposed to just talking flatly in a vague rhythm with nothing behind your voice. #Needed2BeSaid”. Wait, I think that’s over 140 characters. God damn it.

I imagine it must be frustrating to the producers a lot of the time. Obviously they’re getting paid, and they’re earning plaques and awards for their work on albums. Sure, that’s nice, but I’m sure that if somebody is actually serious about their work, they most likely want to be at least recognized for it. I’ve read some complaints about producers putting tags on their beats. I don’t get that particular complaint. I sure as shit get irritated when DJs get a bit overzealous when tagging mixtapes, but I’m personally all for producer tags. If it’s something like the ones that Bangladesh, J.U.S.T.I.C.E. League, or Alchemist use, then I don’t think that it should be a problem. Nothing too loud or intrusive (unless you’re Just Blaze, in which case, you fucking deserve to have a loud tag, especially because what you hear after the tag plays is going to be absolutely sick 9 times out of 10). Something that can even add to the atmosphere of the beat (see J.U.S.T.I.C.E. League’s tag on Nas’s “No Introduction”). Or even something that plays almost like a small interlude before the song even comes on, like Mr. Porter’s “You get more for your money when you fuck with Mr. Porter” thing. That sort of thing doesn’t even get in the way of the song that’s about to play, it’s just an introduction. Anything that’s put in the beginning or end of the beat. I personally think that a producer should have a tag on at least one beat that they contribute to a rapper’s album. If there are other beats by the same producer, they don’t really need a tag in my mind (but it wouldn’t hurt). At least one though, so that it’s clearly put out there for everyone to know that that producer worked on the album. Even if it’s a collaboration album between a producer and a rapper, people really are just going to pay attention to the rapper. It doesn’t matter if the name of the producer is next to the rapper’s name, because the one that they hear talking to them is the rapper. If the producer has their name verbally stated on the track, or even just some sound effect that remains consistent throughout the music you work on with various artists, people will hopefully recognize it and make the association between his beats on different albums, and could possibly even start appreciating him.

Hearing the name on the song is a lot more effective than just crediting the producer in the liner notes, especially in an age where people don’t generally buy physical copies of albums.

I don’t want to make it seem like I’m giving producers more credit than rappers for making good music. You’re never going to hear me say that. When I listen to hip hop, I generally check more for what the rapper is saying than I do the beat. I only really pay attention more to the beat when it’s something absolutely mind-blowing, or when the rapping sucks. But the producer needs to provide the canvas for the rapper to be able to write what they write. At the same time, it’s the rappers who ultimately decide what direction they want an album to go in. They add the charisma needed for people to really become invested in the music. They write and recite the words that we all react to. Being a profitable off rapping is probably more difficult to do than doing so by being a good producer basically because of how the market works; rappers are always looking for beats, but if someone hears a rapper who sounds like other people they don’t get taken as seriously as they could. Producers are given a lot more wiggle room generally as far as the sounds they can use. Nobody really gets upset at a producer for making a beat for a pop artist, but everyone gets mad at a rapper for collaborating with the same artist. Ultimately, what I’m trying to say here before going on about 7 different tangents in one paragraph is that good hip hop music is the result of both rapper and producer. They go hand in hand. If one existed without the other, hip hop wouldn’t have become what it did, and there’s nothing that anyone could say against that.

But the rapper gets his due. I think it’s about time the producer does too.

How Hip-Hop Helped Me Deal with Mental Illness

by Dustin

Depressionarticle

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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