Outspoken Staten Island emcee NYOIL (formerly Kool Kim of golden-era duo The UMCs) speaks on the impact of his controversial underground favourite “Y’all Should All Get Lynched”, mentoring the next generation of Hip-Hop artists through his PEMG set-up and his current search for creative inspiration.
When you dropped “Y’all Should All Get Lynched” a few years ago you almost immediately became a spokesperson for a large section of the Hip-Hop audience who were also tired of the stereotypical rap you were speaking out against. Were you expecting people to gravitate to your message so quickly?
“I’d be lying if I said I was expecting it to blow, but I knew something was going to happen. I knew I had something there. I mean, the song was called “Y’all Should All Get Lynched” so I knew someone was going to take notice. Expecting nothing to happen would have kinda been like having all the elements to make dynamite but then being surprised when it blows up (laughs). I wrote that song because I genuinely felt that at the time. Now, when I saw something was happening with the song, I moved on that to the best of my ability. Unfortunately for me I didn’t really have the means to do anything about it under my own steam, so I ended up having to deal with other people who didn’t have my good intentions at heart. So I gambled and hoped I’d be able to parlay that one song into a movement, generate some income, do shows, save some money and then be autonomous again as an artist. But it didn’t happen that way because I kinda fell into that thing where, if you’re that dude who’s saying or doing something new, some people don’t really get it for awhile until someone else comes along and translates it a little bit. But whilst all these other dudes were running around talking about being conscious, who else out there could really articulate their position like NYOIL? Which one of those dudes could go toe-to-toe with someone like Al Sharpton and really get their point across? Which one of those dudes could be invited onto the BBC as a guest to talk about some of those issues contained in the music? Personally, I just do the work that’s required of me and I make sure everything I do is meaningful so that even if I don’t get everything I feel I should get from a particular project I can look at what I’m doing and feel like it’s important.”
At the very least that track definitely sparked a lot of discussion because you were being so specific in terms of your message. A lot of artists with a similar message seem to be afraid to completely follow through with it for fear of burning bridges in the industry…
“I think you’re absolutely right and I think the key phrase you used there was burning bridges. Hindsight is a 20/20 thing and it’s a funny that, being as I’ve had the background of being Kool Kim from The UMCs, I know what the ass-kissing in the industry is about and what it ain’t about, what it can do and what it can’t do. So I know that I would rather be the villain of this music then be some ass-kisser trying to chase after some opportunity that’s not gonna come, or even if it does come you’re sitting there like ‘Man, this was not worth what I went through to get it. Look what I’ve done to myself and look what this amounted to.’ I think a lot of people are finding themselves in that space because they’ve sold their soul. There’s a lot of cowardice in this industry and I’m really not that dude. Now, that don’t mean I think I’m some tough guy, but it does mean that I’m not willing to be less than the man that my children and my wife think I am.”
You’ve recently started working with a lot of younger artists through your own PEMG outlet – what prompted that decision?
“I just have a very positive desire to engage young people to create opportunities for themselves. I’m able to teach them about values and morals through Hip-Hop mentorship and I feel like that’s something I’m good at. I want to do something that matters, and what better way to do that then to take care of your community and your people. It don’t get no realer than that. I might not be the most famous rapper out there, but if you look at what I’m doing aside from just recording music you have to recognize that what I’m doing is important and has value. I’m not saying I’m perfect, I’m flawed, but I’m always going to try to do good and that’s what makes it real. The fact that I have a group of young people who’re excited about coming to my house to learn about Hip-Hop and life, that’s the shit to me, b.”
It often seems that larger artists are quick to give artists under their wing a label deal or a clothing line, but then those artists don’t really know what to do with that opportunity because they’ve not been given any real guidance about the business etc. Why do you think it is that we don’t see other artists making similar moves with mentor programmes etc?
“Because cats aren’t really on to the point where they can do things like that. I can do it because I’m free as an artist. That shit is significant and I know I keep saying that but I’m really trying to emphasise that point so that people understand how much of a difference it makes to what you can do. If you’re signed to a major label and you’re in hoc for a million dollars there’s a lot of shit you have to do to make sure the label makes it’s money back off you. That label isn’t interested in you doing anything other than what’s going to make money for them. But I’ve got nothing to lose and no-one to explain myself to. Cats can’t do anything about NYOIL other than deal with it because I’m free and that’s why I can do what I’m doing and these other dudes aren’t doing anything because they’re slaves.”
How different do you feel the game is today for younger artists compared to when you were coming up in the early-90s as part of The UMCs?
“The business model is considerably different today than it was then. Back then all you needed was a demo tape with three good songs on it and one that sounded like a single and you could get a deal. That’s literally how it went for me and Has for the most part. We lucked up because we got a little co-sign from Guru and DJ Premier. The big difference is that back when we were coming up there weren’t so many big corporations directly involved with the music and Hip-Hop wasn’t such a money-making machine. There weren’t so many outside influences meddling in Hip-Hop and encouraging artists to make this watered-down version of the music that we hear today. But that’s why it’s important that a crew like PMG are out there because it’s possible that by them doing what they’re doing and going against the grain that it could change people’s entire perception of today’s younger generation of Hip-Hoppers and let them know that there are kids out there who genuinely respect the art form and want to add something on to that rather than just being about the material aspect of the business.”
Recently you’ve been testing the waters with some viral videos featuring artists such as Lyrics, S.I.T.H and LadiBree – what other projects are in the pipeline?
“We’re just trying to make some movement. We’ve got the videos out and what I’m trying to do is teach these kids to be independent artists so they can be free, you dig it? We’re hoping to create some buzz and then hopefully someone will want to step to that and make an offer that we can’t refuse. If not, then we’re going to continue doing what we’re doing and provide the answer to the question of how you make money in the music business in 2010. Essentially what I’m looking for is to create a situation where we can independently fund this project as an actual company and continue mentoring these kids because that’s the key thing here, to not just teach them about this music but also to mentor them on the business side as well. It’s almost like a new age artist development programme.”
How did you select the artists you’re working with?
Well we have a specific system. It started with my three kids and I told them that if they bring somebody here and they’re not serious then both of you are out. So you might think someone is a good emcee, but do you think they’re good enough for you to co-sign them and put your name next to theirs in the book and put your own place in the crew on the line? You should see how many times I’ve seen these kids change their minds about someone when it’s come to them having to make that co-sign (laughs). It’s ill because when that happens you’ve caused both individuals involved to question the quality of their character. We’re doing this like the mafia, like how if you bring someone in and introduce them like ‘This is a friend of mine’ and the dude screws up then you’re both responsible for that. So that’s what we’re dealing with here, real accountability.”
Finally, amidst working with these new artists, is there likely to be a new NYOIL project any time soon?
“Well I did record a whole album but I don’t really care for it anymore. So now I gotta go through the whole process again, but I’m not really hearing anything that’s inspiring me to make music. Right now, I’m really just enjoying the discovery process with the kids, so I’m really focussing on that. But that said, I do want to put out some more of my own music at some point because it’s about that time (laughs). But with me, any music I make has to be purposeful and not just for the sake of putting something out. If it doesn’t have a purpose to it then I don’t really wanna do it and I haven’t really been inspired recently to put it bluntly. I mean, I can shoot my own videos, record my own material, everything’s an in-house operation, so I could put something out easily, but I’m just not moved to yet. I gotta think about what I’m going to put out next. At the end of the day people expect to hear a particular sound from NYOIL and I understand that, so I don’t want to let anybody down, but I don’t want to keep making the same record over and over again. But whatever I do, I want the fans to know that it’ll be honest and truthful.”