Alongside the likes of Roc Marciano, Ka and Timeless Truth, Harlem-born, Brooklyn-raised artist Wyld Bunch is one of a handful of New York acts who’ve worked consistently in recent years to ensure the spirit of gritty, lyrically-driven Rotten Apple Hip-Hop has remained healthy in the face of mainstream mediocrity and an endless stream of sub-par online rappers who spend more time on Twitter than they do writing rhymes.
With his new DJ Brans-produced project “Unbreakable” being released with the backing of France’s Effiscienz crew, Wyld teams-up with verbal heavyweights such as Torae and Masta Ace to deliver a solid selection of true-school music with a boom-bap thump.
Fresh from an appearance on DJ Premier’s Live From HeadQCourterz radio show, Wyld Bunch jumped on the phone direct from the 718 to discuss his Hip-Hop history, musical goals and the underground / mainstream divide.
What are some of your earliest memories of Hip-Hop?
“I grew-up with Hip-Hop way back in the days when people were break-dancing and wearing the wind-breaker suits (laughs). I was pretty much a child of Hip-Hop. My mom used to play all the soulful oldies-but-goodies in the house and then the first record she ever brought me was LL Cool J’s “I Need A Beat”. Around the same time I also got UTFO’s “Roxanne, Roxanne” and I’ve been in love with Hip-Hop ever since then. Now, I’m from Brooklyn, and I grew-up with these guys around my way who had a group. They didn’t really blow-up crazy at the time but they had some records out on the Tuff City label. You might have heard of them, you might not have, but the group was called The Mighty Mic Masters…”
Freddy B & The Mighty Mic Masters…
“You remember them! Exactly! Those were my boys. Now, those guys were a lot older than me but we all grew-up around the same way in Bed-Stuy, Brooklyn. I always wanted to rhyme and I used to write my little rhymes in the house. This was still around the time when brothers used to go from neighbourhood to neighbourhood and battle different crews. Now, I was still a young guy at the time writing my little A-B-C raps, but I wrote a really good rhyme one day which I considered my first official rap. Now, the Mighty Mic Masters, they used to come out and perform at the block parties that used to happen in the neighbourhood. We all lived within a five block radius of each other and one day they came around to take me to this block party and they liked this particular rhyme that I’d written so they wanted me to get up onstage. So that was the first time I ever rhymed live in front of people at a block party and I did my thing. The crowd showed mad love and ever since then I was hooked and Hip-Hop has been my addiction. So even though the guys who were part of Mighty Mic Masters aren’t really doing music anymore and everybody is living different lives now, I always go back to that time and give them a salute for turning me on to Hip-Hop like that and taking me to that block party that day. I mean, I would have always loved Hip-Hop, but I don’t know if I’d have pursued it as an emcee the way that I did if it hadn’t been for that experience.”
Freddy B & The Mighty Mic Masters definitely made some noise here in the UK back in the 80s, particularly with “The Main Event…Word” and “Coolin’ On The Ave”…
“That’s crazy. I mean, I ask people about them from time to time or I’ll post their name up online and a lot of people are clueless to who that group is. It’s very seldom that people catch on and will be like, ‘I remember that record!’ So for you to know their records being all the way out in the UK is crazy (laughs). That’s ill.”
So being at that block party was the moment when you decided you had a place in Hip-Hop as an emcee?
“Yeah, definitely. I was in love with Hip-Hop after that. But from there, I was still basically just writing my little rhymes. I didn’t have a situation with a label or anything because I was really still too young to be thinking about anything like that. But what happened was, I started to get serious about going to different neighbourhoods and battling different cats. We’d battle at school, with everyone crowded around the one table in the lunchroom, someone would do the beatbox or people would be banging on the table and we’d be rhyming. That was when Hip-Hop was so much fun, man. I was able to experience the music like that for years, just that love for Hip-Hop before it became a business like it is today. Back then it was just something that we did in the neighbourhood that the wider world really wasn’t that into. I mean, I’ve had so many incredible experiences over the years because of Hip-Hop, like being in the studio with Guru, opening up for the Lost Boyz, I even did a song back in 1998 with Big Daddy Kane. But back then, it was just something that I did. I wasn’t taking the business aspect of the music as seriously then as I have been in more recent times. But that love for the music and the culture is just embedded in me. So regardless of what happens on the business side, I’ll always have that real love for Hip-Hop.”
So when you were battling other emcees, did you come across anyone who was already established or who went on to make a name for themselves?
“Let me see (laughs). It’s crazy that you would ask me that because usually I would never ever mention this, due to this other guy not really being known as the battle-rapper type. To be honest, it wasn’t actually like we met to battle, it was a case of us rhyming back and forth and then one of you says a rhyme that’s a little harder, then the other guy comes back a little harder and it turned into something like a battle even though we were really just showing off our skills. But that particular person I was in that situation with was Kwame (laughs). I mean, Kwame was known for the polka-dots and all of that, but outside of that when it came to just spittin’, Kwame was nice. The man had skills that didn’t have anything to do with the radio-type of music that he blew up with. It was actually shortly after we had our little situation rhyming together that Kwame did actually first blow-up. I mean, I was in high-school when this happened in the ninth grade and Kwame was about two or three grades above me. But I always think that about Kwame, that people slept-on him a little and didn’t realise the type of flow he had going on underneath those polka dots (laughs).”
During the late-80s / early-90s when you were really honing your craft, were you doing it with the intention of getting a record deal or was that not a priority for you?
“Being in the spotlight when it came to Hip-Hop was definitely something I was dreaming about back then. I mean, the biggest thing that everybody used to talk about was getting signed to a label like Def Jam. I definitely fantasized about it, but I didn’t really put too much effort into pursuing it back then. It was still just more about the love of the music for me. To an extent, it was difficult to pursue a record deal back then because you had to be in the studio to make your demo tape and then be going up to all the labels to be heard. But what happened was, early in 1996, me and H. Lloyd, who went on to be part of Sputnik Brown, we put out a record together. We put our little chump change together and put out the House Of Reps single “Why It Gotta Be Me?” which was a big move. I mean, H. Lloyd, he always had equipment in his basement so we’d be down there making music. But everything we did in Hip-Hop back then, as much as we wanted to be successful and get on, we were really doing everything ourselves. We didn’t really go the shop-a-demo route. We put our money together and did our own thing. I’ve always had that drive, to not really look to a label or anybody and have to wait for them to do anything for me. I guess the same thing still applies today with the music I’m making now. I mean, I had label situations before, but nothing was ever really concrete or satisfactory on the business side. So while people around us were putting their money into things that they enjoyed like sneakers and clothes, we put our money into getting that first vinyl single pressed up. We really didn’t know what we were doing at the time though (laughs). But we weren’t interested in spending our money on sneakers and stuff to then go outside trying to show everyone how fly we were; we wanted to put that record out to show people how much love we had for what we were doing.”
That was still relatively early in the 90s independent movement so it was definitely a big statement at that time for upcoming artists to be releasing their own music rather than chasing that major label deal…
“I’m still proud of the fact that we did that back then. To this day, that whole experience taught me a lot about putting music out. I mean, there wasn’t any Internet or anything back then. So rather than wait to try and be heard by a label who could then put our music out, we thought the smartest thing we could do back then was put our own music out and put it on the streets ourselves. But that was definitely an exciting period.”
You mentioned earlier you ended-up in the studio with Big Daddy Kane back in 98 – Kane is arguably my favourite emcee of all-time so I have to ask how that happened?
“Yeah, he’s definitely one of the greats. Basically, I had a session in a studio out in Queens. I was signed to D.R. Period’s production label at the time and I was out at this studio in Queens laying down a track. Kane had come through because he had a session there as he was in talks with the guy who owned the studio about doing business with him. Kane came into the room we were working in, he sat in, listened to what we were doing, and then we were introduced. By the time I was introduced to Kane, he’d already heard about fifteen minutes of our session and he gave us some props. I mean, I was starstruck because this was Big Daddy Kane who’d just walked in the room (laughs). So I took a chance and was like, ‘It would be crazy if you got on a hook or even just did a shout out on the track.’ When I said that to him, he was just like, ‘I’ll do you one better’ and wrote sixteen bars for the track. Kane was just a cool dude. We kinda built up a cool little relationship at the time. I remember, he was working on a video and he invited us to the shoot, we went to his house one time. Those brief little interactions we had back then were phenomenal to me. I mean, aside from the music, Kane is just a good dude. But lyrically? Kane is a monster. He’s one of the greatest emcees of all-time.”
Definitely. I had plenty of heated arguments with friends back in the day though when he was going through the purple-suit era…
“We were all lucky to have been part of the culture back then to really be able to watch Hip-Hop evolve. From artists like Kane going from “Raw” to the purple suits (laughs). From Hip-Hop going from “Pickin’ Boogers to “F**k Tha Police”. But it was all still considered Hip-Hop. Now, there’s such a separation between the mainstream and the underground. So my experience and love of Hip-Hop is going to be totally different to how it is for these new guys coming up. I mean, back in the 90s when I was first coming out as an artist, there was definitely a change happening with the music going from one generation to the next, but it was still basically the same elements of Hip-Hop that were being passed down. But now, it’s hard for me to pass down what I believe Hip-Hop to be because the Hip-Hop community itself is separated. The definition of Hip-Hop has gotten blurred over the years. I mean, I don’t have anything against mainstream artists, but myself and other artists out there are trying to preserve the culture and our way of life. What a lot of these artists are doing on a mainstream level doesn’t reflect the culture or the way the average person is living today. Most people can’t relate to what a lot of artists in the mainstream are talking about right now. I mean, not to call Jay-Z out, but have you heard the new album?”
It’s funny you should bring that up as I was going to ask your opinion on “Magna Carta” considering it’s the album everyone’s talking about right now…
“Well, let me ask you, what do you think about the album?”
There are some interesting moments on there but overall I don’t think it lives up to the hype and considering Jay is looked at by many as the greatest rapper of all-time I don’t think he’s really pushing himself lyrically on the album…
“That’s exactly how I feel about it. Me personally, I can’t relate to anything Jay-Z’s saying on that album. I’ll always be a fan of Jay, I’ll always have respect for Jay, but I just can’t relate to what he’s saying on “Magna Carta”. Now, that doesn’t mean you have to always be coming from the ‘hood and talking about that, because one thing about Hip-Hop is that you can rhyme about anything. Hip-Hop is a form of self-expression and you can pretty much talk about anything in Hip-Hop and it’s going to hit home with somebody. Now, with someone like Jay, he’s really only talking about being broke or being rich and he really doesn’t go outside of that. To me, there’s so much more to life than that and so much more to Hip-Hop. So, if you’re an artist who’s talked about the whole broke / rich thing for a number of albums and you’ve covered the back end of it and the front end of it, then talk about something else. There’s so many different things you can talk about as an artist. There are so many different things that people are going through in life. So, when the fans are hearing the same thing from fifty different rappers it becomes redundant, particularly if they can’t relate to what they’re hearing. That’s not healthy for Hip-Hop and it’s not going to allow the culture to progress and grow.”
You’ve consistently worked with overseas producers in recent years, including Germany’s DJ SoulClap and France’s DJ Brans – was that something you set out to do or did it happen organically?
“It’s crazy because Germany was one of my biggest supporters in the beginning and then I started to see I was getting love from a lot of other places outside of the US as well. Once I noticed what was going on I really started to take that seriously and it really just snowballed with me then working with different producers from other countries. I really wanted to cater to the places that were showing me such support. I mean, the love that certain places outside of the US have for Hip-Hop is the love that we used to have for it here in the States back in the 90s. We don’t really have that anymore because the radio and the mainstream have divided everything and there’s only a small amount of people here who are trying to preserve the culture. I mean, it’s there, but you really have to look so hard for it. So to me, the biggest thing about trying to preserve the culture is connecting with other people who’re trying to do the same thing, wherever they might be. But it was definitely refreshing for me to find people out there who feel as strongly about Hip-Hop as I do. I mean, I fell in love with places like Germany, the UK and France for the support they’ve showed me. I mean, I’m ready to move myself (laughs). But it’s crazy to think that, Hip-Hop started in New York, but artists like myself have to go all around the world to find support for their music before they can come back home and have people show an interest in what we’re doing. But if that’s the route we have to go, then I’m built for the job.”
With that said, it must have felt good to have been a guest recently on Live From HeadQCourterz with DJ Premier promoting your new “Unbreakable” project?
“Yeah, that felt great. When I started really pushing my music through the Internet a few years back and getting serious about being heard, my ultimate goal wasn’t to get signed to a major label or anything like that. The ultimate goal for me, which at the time I thought was something pretty impossible, was to be on Live From HeadQCourtez with DJ Premier. So now the jokes on me because I actually made it there (laughs). I mean, that just happened last week so I’m really still taking it all in. But I definitely feel like it’s mission accomplished, so now it’s about where do I go from here because in my mind I’ve already achieved the impossible. But being up there with Premier was beyond a beautiful thing, man. It really was something else. To be honest, I really don’t have the words to describe how it felt.”
So now you’ve already reached your ultimate Hip-Hop goal, if we were to sit down for another interview in a year’s time, what would you hope to have achieved by then?
“What I really want to do is just my maintain my spot. I’m getting a lot of love and people are acknowledging the music I’m making so I really feel like I have a place in this now. I also want to get out to all the countries that have showed me love, like France, Germany, Sweden, Russia and everywhere else. I just want to make physical contact with these places and really get out there and interact with the people who’re supporting what I do. I think that would be an amazing experience for me to be able to do that. So that’s my mission now, to get out to some of these places and experience those old feelings about Hip-Hop but in a new day.”
Follow Wyld Bunch on Twitter – @WyldBunch
DJ Brans-mixed preview of Wyld Bunch’s “Unbreakable” EP featuring Roc Marciano, Torae, Masta Ace etc.