A History of UTFO and the Roxanne Wars

by Dustin


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.


Album Review: CURTA – End of Future Park

by Dustin



Life as an independent artist is one heavy with fraught uncertainty. Finding footing amongst industry giants and a never-ending feed of new music is challenging enough without frequent shutdowns of the few venues which cater to the scene. Many feel nomadic, resulting in a strong urge to return to a fleeting musical home. It was no different emotionally for two CUTRA and 4Digit, so they took these feelings and concentrated them into a project of musical venting. The result, End of Future Park, ended up equal parts mournful and celebratory. It served as a sort of “homage to [a] place which doesn’t exist anymore; never existed; or will maybe exist at some point in the future.” Quite honestly, it was done extremely tastefully.

As with Click-Bait, 4Digit handled the production in its entirety on this release; however, End of Future Park was gloomier and significantly more experimental in nature. The project had an unsettling dystopian vibe, cultivated within the instrumentation by selective use of glitch and electronic elements. In some ways, the production followed a similar formula to some of clipping.’s earlier material by taking the foundations of hip-hop and twisting them with blowed out noise and synthetic heaviness. That’s not to say that it was derivative though, as the production was still noticeably his own flavor. The final track was also created using a curated mix of his left-over production prior to relocating. It may not have been the headliner on the album, but it was a lovely bonus to the total package.

On the vocal end of things CURTA wasted no time in proving he and 4Digit’s chemistry as a team. His exasperated, hyper-observant style complimented the glitchy and dark production wonderfully. He displayed the ability to inspire a painful hopelessness with his lyrics and delivery, similar to an artist such as Joe Horton of No Bird Sing. He isn’t the flashiest or most technically advanced of emcees, yet he always seemed to bring exactly what a track was calling for. His vocals also had an almost live-show quality to them, which was the perfect organic contrast to the heavily computerized instrumentation.

To keep it short and sweet, End of Future Park sounded like a rap concert happening atop a busted motherboard…that’s being said in the most positive way possible, because it truly was a fun experience.

Featured artists were kept to a minimum on this release. There was however a single guest, and he was a rather interesting one. This was of course Milwaukee-based WC Tank, perhaps most notable for his involvement in the production of music videos for Busdriver. He appeared on the track “I’m So Cool” – one of the weirder cuts on the album – and was a fantastically placed feature. While guest artists can feel pointless sometimes, WC Tank was absolutely not one of those cases. He added a pleasant sense of variation that made the full listen all that much better.

End of Future Park was an album that might not be a perfect fit for everyone’s tastes. It felt more niche than the majority of indie hip-hop releases; however, through that process CURTA put together something fully realized and true to itself. Ultimately the narrowed focus allowed for a concise, very enjoyable project. There were a lot of things here that haven’t been explored sonically by many, if any, artists in the past and that alone was quite admirable. The fact that CURTA and 4Digit managed to adventure into uncharted territory and leave with music that very genuinely sounded great was the cherry on top. For someone actively engaged in the experimental and alternative rap scene, this was certainly an album worth giving some extended attention. For those less familiar, it remained accessible enough to not be an intimidating first step into the world of weird. It also certainly posed the question of where exactly CURTA will take his sound in the future. A question that should be met with excitement and anticipation, taking everything into consideration.

Album Review: LARS – Last American Rock Stars

by Dustin



That score is not a mistake, nor is it a bad thing (it’s actually incredibly good); all will become clear in due time. Sit back in your easy chair, smoke something, and read on about a super clever project from two mainstays in the Detroit underground.

Veteran emcees King Gordy and Bizarre had been teasing a duo project for a long time, perhaps nearly a decade. Originally under the group name Davidians, the pair released multiple “street single” one-off songs in addition to regularly collaborating on each other’s solo material. In spite of this, it seemed as if the idea of a full length Davidians project had been permanently relegated to the back-burner for both emcees. This changed in 2017, when the enigmatic pair found a home for their collaboration on Magik Ninja Entertainment. The name Davidians was dropped in favor of LARS (standing for Last American Rock Stars), taking on a rocker theme that King Gordy had been toying with for years. Later the same year they released a teaser mixtape called Foul World, and announced Last American Rock Stars as their debut album. The release was slated for early 2018.

Flash forward to 2018, and they followed through on that promise. The record was finally here.

Last American Rock Stars played out like a concept album of sorts. It felt as if one was being brought along for a drug fueled bender lead by two of the wildest scumbags on Earth. Perhaps unsurprisingly the album had an incredibly macabre tone. There was this looming grimness to everything, regardless of how celebratory a song may have been. King Gordy and Bizarre played the role of degenerate rock stars perfectly, as if they were addicted to the party lifestyle to the point that consequences no longer retained their meaning; however, an awareness of the damage being done was always present. King Gordy’s fascination with individuals such as GG Allin showed significantly the the direction of LARS on this project. Ultimately the album captured the qualities that most would attribute to a outlandish-yet-grimey rockstar life: violence, sex, drugs, and criminal debauchery. These themes were presented with a lovely degree of nuance, making them seem fun as hell, but a surefire way to burn out quickly.

The concept may have been slightly loose, but it was incredibly ambitious. The chaotic nature of the events depicted on Last American Rock Stars did lead to a confusingly scattered first listen, but once everything settled it was executed quite well. It took two or three listens for everything to come together, but it was well worth the time.

Beyond that, the album just had a lot of things working in its favor. King Gordy is in his prime as a rapper right now, and it felt like he could do no wrong here. If he wasn’t bringing a spastic energy to a track, he was probably using a mesmerizingly smooth flow to dazzle the listener. He was the true highlight of the release, and songs such as “Just Got Out The County,” “California,” and “Rock N Roll” feature some of his best work on the mic in years. Bizarre was more hit-and-miss, but even his weaker verses had merit in their personality and construction of the “last true rock stars alive” theme; moreover, his stronger verses were perhaps his most entertaining since the heyday of D12. The duo had some hilarious lines scatter throughout the totally depraved lyrical content as well, which gave the album a nice sense of range. One of the most memorable moments in this regard is on “Rock N Roll”, where King Gordy boasts about being a mosh-pit starter immediately before attempt to persuade the listener to attend a LARS show because “it only costs six dollars.” Humor like that brought a lot of character to Last American Rock Stars, and it was used sparingly enough to keep everything fresh.

It should also be noted that “can we borrow y’all lawnmower?” is one of the funniest adlibs to ever appear on a rap album. Thank you, Bizarre, you are a treasure.

The featured artists were also cool, and that’s not always easy to find in underground projects. Fury, Monoxide Child (of Twiztid) and Twista had the most interesting verses, but everybody else held their own. It truly felt as if LARS were taking you to meet some of their equally (if not more) trashy friends, and it bolstered the concept wonderfully. The production was also selected and handled in an impressive manner. The blend of trap, rock, and underground throwback beats intermingled more smoothly than one may have expected. The variety did a superb job at giving each song a distinct backdrop and emotional feel. For example, tracks like “Stomp” and “I Believe I Can Fly” could not have been further removed from each other sonically, yet they both sounded perfectly at home on Last American Rock Stars. With all that in mind, King Gordy and Bizarre made excellent selections for a supporting cast and the album benefited from it hugely.

The only real issue with Last American Rock Stars was the mastering. The album got significantly quieter during and after “Lit.” At least, this is true on the Spotify release (the physical or iTunes versions may not suffer from this issue). It wasn’t a huge deal at all, though. The mixing overall is fantastic, and it’s fairly easy to slide the volume up on the later songs using one’s audio player of choice. [Update 25/02/18: mastering was not an issue on the physical copy or iTunes version, this appeared to have been exclusive to Spotify]

The reason Last American Rock Stars was so difficult to assign a score to is the fact there is no frame of reference to compare the album. It sounded like a beast entirely of its own, and the uniqueness was refreshing. They managed to turn a scattered tracklist into a musical cross between The Hangover and Hated: GG Allin and the Murder Junkies. It played through like a journey into a life that most will never live, with King Gordy and Bizarre enthusiastically inviting the listener along for the experience. The album felt dirty and taboo, but also thrilling and adventurous. It forced inhibitions out the window, and aimed to take the listener wherever it pleased. The Detroit duo may have taken a lot of years to finally come together on a project like this, but the wait meant that their potential got to be fully realized. Last American Rock Stars is absolutely a recommended listen, particularly for those wishing to dive into an album that is distinctly true to itself.

Album Review: ANKHLEJOHN – The Red Room

by Rajin



Perhaps as a response to the oversaturation of syrupy pop-trap that has had hip hop in a chokehold for a bit too long, it seems like over the past year underground rap has been making something of a return to what made hip hop so appealing in the early-to-mid-’90s. We aren’t seeing artists trying to recreate boom bap; rather, artists have been capturing the essence of ‘90s rap and adapting it for modern times, effectively resuscitating an approach to the music that appeared to be extinct for two decades. For the most part, artists have been looking to early material by artists such as the Wu-Tang Clan and Nas for inspiration. What we haven’t seen very often, though, is a young artist looking to Brotha Lynch Hung and Esham.

That is, until now.

Hailing from Washington, D.C., up-and-comer ANKHLEJOHN is an aggressive, menacing, raspy-voiced emcee set on creating the most intimidating music you’ve ever heard. In the third quarter of last year, he dropped his debut album, The Red Room. This album is a nice and tight 11 tracks long, and barring the last track “Wetter” (which is a fairly self-explanatory title), it is an unrelenting barrage of threats, violence, and vividly dark stories. While many young artists are making music that could fall under the same descriptions, none do so as believably as ANKHLEJOHN does here. There are times on this record where the listener could genuinely become concerned for his mental well-being, and I mean that in the most respectful and best possible way. Throughout the entire run, the listener is given no time to relax. It keeps you on edge, holding your breath the whole time.

The record features haunting, hellish production that even some of the most unforgivingly brutal rappers would have difficulty approaching. It’s got the same sort of blistering cold atmosphere that you could find on a Mobb Deep album in the mid-’90s. For the most part, the production is very boom bap-influenced, with producers HNIC, Camouflage Monk, Viles, and more utilizing the ever-trustworthy technique of chopping soul samples for a large percentage of the songs here. However, that’s not to say that this record stays in that single lane. “Leonadis” sees Ankh rapping over a fiery trap banger, produced by Montana Eclipz, composed of bells and epic orchestral samples. “Original Man” features ANKHLEJOHN and Hus Kingpin trading bars over some of the most genuinely stomach-churning, anxiety-inducing production I’ve heard in years, courtesy of Big Ghost, Ltd. Overall, the album keeps a very dark, moody, and heavy tone to it, which perfectly compliments Ankh’s style.

Lyrically, ANKHLEJOHN’s strengths mainly lie in his ability to paint vivid pictures, and to come up with face-screwing one-liners. To pair with that, his vocals are, quite simply, absolutely gnarly. Ankh’s got a voice that would not have been out of place in a group like Onyx. However, while Onyx spent most of their time screaming in everybody’s faces waving guns, Ankh chooses to speak clearly and threateningly with a rope in his hands. His vocal delivery is still quite brash and abrasive, but he never raises his voice too loudly. By opting for this sort of delivery, he ends up sounding even more imposing. He seems like he draws from his Brotha Lynch Hung influence to casually rap verses depicting ultraviolent scenarios.

Upon listening to this album, one of the most distinctive features are the ad-libs. We live in an era of hip hop where rappers overuse ad-libs to the point where their music is almost unlistenable in many cases. There’s an overwhelming surplus of rappers imitating tires screeching, gunshots, and voicing otherwise random words and sounds. It could be argued that ANKHLEJOHN doesn’t use any fewer ad-libs than these rappers, however, the way he uses them is infinitely more productive. Throughout the album, you’ll hear him growl “sick, sick, sick” as though reacting to his own lyrics. On a track like “Leonadis” the assorted shouts, screeches, laughter, and other ad-libs make him sound almost like he’s having a schizophrenic meltdown and he captured it on record. I can’t say I’ve heard anyone else use ad-libs in this way, and I absolutely love it.

Unfortunately, I didn’t find this record until a couple of weeks ago, so I’m a bit late, but boy am I glad I found it at all. The Red Room is a definitely highlight of 2017. In this day and age, hip hop needs a little more grit, and even though I’m loving what’s going on in underground rap, I feel the grit is still lacking in a lot of ways. ANKHLEJOHN seems to feel the same way, because he delivered an incredibly raw, gritty, and visceral project with The Red Room. The album is dizzying and beautifully dark, and it’s one that I strongly recommend.

A History of Definitive Jux

by Dustin


The story of Definitive Jux really starts with Company Flow in the early nineties. The group – consisting of Bigg Jus, Mr. Len, and a very young El-P – was turning the heads of underground labels due to their heavy presence on the WKCR 89.9 radio in New York; however, the group still found it rather difficult to find a home initially. Loud Records opted to sign the now legendary Mobb Deep instead, and Tommy Boy Records didn’t believe the trio had what it takes to make it in the music industry. Despite the rejection, Company Flow pushed on and released the original Funcrusher extended play on the much smaller Official Recordings. During this time the group would also meet Amechi Uzoigwe – a video production assistant at the time – who would ultimately become their manager. The goal was simple: to keep on the independent grind until a record deal could be found on their own terms.

This would eventually happen when the group signed on to underground powerhouse Rawkus Records, and released Funcrusher Plus shortly thereafter in 1997. This album became one of the most influential underground releases of the 1990s, and spawned nearly two years of touring and promotion. Following this, Bigg Jus departed from Company Flow on good terms with the intention of pursuing a solo career. Not long after, the remaining group members’ relationship with Rawkus began to deteriorate rapidly. Feelings of financial mistrust and talent mismanagement soured Company Flow on the label, and El-P would ultimately make the decision to depart. These events effectively dissolved Company Flow. Aside from an instrumental release and a few loose tracks post-Jus, all members would remain active, but as solo artists.

Disillusioned with the music industry due to his experience at Rawkus Records, a disgruntled El-P went on to team up with manager Amechi in order to form a label named Def Jux in 1999. Ultimately, Def Jux sought to provide amenities such as covering the overhead on projects and offering 50% earnings on all record sale royalties to the original musician. Def Jux didn’t want to be shoehorned into any particular sound or facet of hip-hop, they wanted to grant artists the freedom to be genuine to themselves and release music that reflected such. They wanted to thrive with individuals who would normally be relegated to little more than open mic events and college radio stations. No mainstream expectations, no compromising, just raw hip-hop. A tall order, and a massive risk to be sure, but El-P and Amechi were driven by a burning desire to treat musicians with respect.

The label released Def Jux Presents in March of 2001 as a sampler of what they had to offer, but their first real success would come in May of the same year with Cannibal Ox’s El-P produced debut album, The Cold Vein. This record is still considered a seminal release to this day, and put Def Jux’s name on the map in the world of hip-hop. They would hit a second home run in September, when Aesop Rock dropped the critically lauded Labor Days. Def Jux would experience a slight hiccup that year in the wake of its initial success, however. Def Jam Recordings sued over the similarities in name. This was eventually settled out of court, and the label officially change to Definitive Jux to avoid any future legal issues. Despite this brief tie up in litigation, 2002 saw the release of El-P’s Fantastic Damage and Mr. Lif’s I Phantom, two records that were met with universal critical acclaim. The label had laid an extremely solid foundation, and was poised for nothing but growth and victory going forward.

Expansion, progression, and success certainly rung true for Definitive Jux through the middle portion of the new millennium, but not without a healthy dose of conflict leading to significant retooling. The relationship between the label and Cannibal Ox (specifically Vast Aire) crumbled, and the enigmatic duo would never release another record through El-P’s outfit. Holes in the Definitive Jux roster would gradually be filled with individuals such as Murs, C-Rayz Walz, and El-P’s longtime friend Camu Tao (of S.A. Smash and rap super collective The Weathermen). The label also signed fellow Weathermen member Cage after his nasty falling out with Eastern Conference owners The High & Mighty. Boasting a newly revitalized talent pool, in addition to retaining Aesop Rock, Mr. Lif, and a few others, Definitive Jux proceeded to go on another absolute tear of record drops. The standouts of which, just to name a few, include: The End of the Beginning, Black Dialogue, Since We Last Spoke, Hell’s Winter, Mo’ Mega, I’ll Sleep When You’re Dead, and None Shall Pass. The label had a firmly established cult following by this point. Renown for being different while also embodying the spirit of hip-hop. Though, the seemingly never ending success story proved shortly to be unsustainable.

As unfortunate as it is, the history of Definitive Jux is not one with much of a happy ending. Near the end of the 2000s things began to unravel rather quickly. The turning point was likely the passing of Camu Tao in 2008. A long time Definitive Jux member and best friend to many, his death shook the label to its core and created tension between certain artists. El-P had also allegedly become somewhat unhappy with the state and development of Definitive Jux. Feeling proud of all the label had accomplished, yet regretful that they had become too homogeneous in sound and created a bit of a splintered audience away from hip-hop itself. Definitive Jux, at times, seemed alienated from the rap community. Cited as being too weird or too niche, many turned their noses up at buying into their offerings. Being that El-P had come up in the east coast hip-hop scene, he began to feel a strange disconnect from his brainchild as if it no longer represented himself or its original ethos. After a run of uninspired releases and reissues (aside from Cage’s excellent 2009 album Depart From Me), El-P finally announced that he would be stepping down as creative director of Definitive Jux and placing the label on permanent hiatus in 2010; moreover, he stated the he would be moving on to focus on his career as a hip-hop artist.

This announcement also revealed that Camu Tao’s posthumous King of Hearts would fittingly be the final release prior to the label closing its doors. A collection of rough song ideas Camu wanted people to hear, touched up and arranged by El-P, King of Hearts released August 17th 2010 in conjunction with Fat Possum Records. Just like that, Definitive Jux’ reign over independent hip-hop had come to a close. A decision which, El-P would note years later, felt like the right one. The label had run its course and ended when it needed to before hurting its legacy. The remaining roster dispersed, with most finding homes on other independent record labels. Of the most notable, El-P moved on to release another solo album before forming Run the Jewels with Outkast affiliate Killer Mike, Aesop Rock would seek refuge on Rhymesayers Entertainment, Cage reconciled with Mighty Mi to rejoin Eastern Conference, and Mr. Lif eventually found his way to Mello Music Group.

Though it may have felt as if it ended just as soon as it started, Definitive Jux remains relevant even in the modern context of hip-hop through its influence. While labels like Bad Boy had attempted to glamorize the sound of New York hip-hop for the masses, Definitive Jux tried to keep it true to its roots while also developing an alternative lane for artists that is still flourishing today. El-P and Amechi also managed to revolutionize the status of independent hip-hop labels. Setting an example of how to break out of the mold set by the major corporations in music by placing the artist before the business whenever possible, while also operating sustainably. Though El-P may have some regret when reflecting back on the label, ultimately he did achieve his goal. What spawned out of frustration toward the music industry, would help set the bar higher for the treatment of underground acts in hip-hop. Between this influence and the amazing music released during its decade long run, it is hard to call Definitive Jux anything but a success in retrospect.

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

by Dustin


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


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.

Extraordinary Nobodies