Having built a reputation in the 90s as a ferocious battle emcee, New York’s Breez Evahflowin has been rocking the M-I-C for longer than some of today’s new generation of rap fans have even been alive. As a member of the Stronghold collective, the Rotten Apple resident has put many lyrical competitors down for the count over the years, whilst also releasing numerous well-received underground albums and singles along the way.
Recently announcing his surprise retirement from the rap game with the release of his supposed ‘last’ album “And He Goes On…” through Domination Recordings, a candid Breez speaks openly here about facing the realities of being a 30-something under-the-radar Hip-Hop artist, career highlights and how he wishes he could’ve written one of KRS-One’s most memorable rhymes.
Obvious opening question – what prompted you to record a ‘final’ album?
“I really wanna say because it felt like the right time to do something else but to be honest it started out as a promotional angle. My approach was gonna be ‘If the fans want more I’ll make more’ but now I’m sticking to the reports. I feel like at this point, why not? I’ve been performing publicly as Breez Evahflowin for twenty years now. I feel like I’ve said enough. The problem is it is sooooo addictive though, I mean that f**kin’ mic calls out to you. I find it hard to be at any venue and not feel the urge to jump on stage, snatch the mic and rock. I really, really love this shit, but I will never explore any of my other talents if I keep putting ninety percent of my free-time and money into music. There’s also the sobering reality of numbers. I’ve found that my music only resonates with a select few. I appreciate the fact that when it does affect someone they support for the long run, but my songs are rarely infectious and hardly viral. Some would argue that if I were to invest more into promotion that could change and to those people I’d say I’ve tested the waters. We put up a considerable sum for a small label in order to get our music worked to number two on the CMJ charts. We were well received by reviewers, but the spins and exposure didn’t result in sales. I could go on the road and tour constantly, push to rebuild the buzz and fight back into that circle I’ve hovered in forever. Or I could chill and enjoy the consistency of a paycheck doing mundane yet well compensated work. Some people have tried to knock my recent domesticity, but I love it and, to me, being financially stable is new and exciting. So with all that said, “As He Goes On…” has to be my final album and I feel this is one of the most solid pieces I’ve ever delivered. It’s the story of a guy who literally gave it all he had and is now walking away satisfied with the effort. My first love is comic art and I owe it to myself to get back to it while I can still find the drive to do so. I’ve been trusted with an amazing script and I’m eager to get to work on it. But don’t be surprised if you walk into some little dive bar in the Village on open mic night and you see your boy murdering a freestyle. You’ve still gotta feed the beast from time to time.”
How do you feel you’ve changed and developed over the years as an emcee?
“Awhile back I went to lunch with a homie who grew up around the same time I did. During a typical Black male state of Hip-Hop discussion, he goes on to compare me to a Japanese samurai around the 1800s, a warrior living by an ancient code faced with a new and changing world still keeping his blade sharp as his countrymen go for their guns. Even today I still stubbornly hold to an unwritten code for emcees made up in the 90s. We were out there actively shaping the NY underground Hip-Hop movement and we were strict! You would get wrecked in a cipher if you crossed the line. Hip-Hop was spiritual. KRS and Rakim were like divine prophets. We developed the code from them, with rules like no biting, being able to freestyle on demand, always keeping a sharp sixteen at the ready, don’t cuff the mic, respect the deejay, respect the cipher and respect yourself. The sad fact is that most of those rules don’t exist anymore. Either way that’s still what fuels my music now. My last three albums have been me showing off this unique style I developed by living the code. But now I’ve tamed the ferocity in turn for focus. I gave up volume in exchange for intensity. I’ve also significantly cut back on the unnecessary profanity found in my early work. I feel I’ve come a long way from frat boy rap to where if ‘adult contemporary Hip-Hop’ had become a genre I might’ve stuck around a little longer.”
What’s been the proudest moment of your career?
“Walking through the international departure doors at Newark International Airport in 1997. It was my first time being booked for a European Hip-Hop show. Until then I had to listen with intense jealousy to stories from peers who had gone out to rock for these amazingly receptive crowds, crowds they described as embracing the culture with a similar intensity as early-90s true school heads in the US did. I had also never been that far away from home before. I was way excited, plus I was going out there with my Stronghold crew mate Poison Pen. We were on our way to Bordeaux, France for a b-boy competition and we were the featured guests. We were being brought over by a Southern France version of Stronghold called the Asphalt Bangers League. I felt proud because for the first time my music was going to open the door to one of the many rich cultural experiences that have shaped my life.”
Obviously you made your name initially as a battle emcee – looking back are there any battles that particularly standout for you and why?
“The Blaze battle in 1998. I remember the first Blaze battle that Pri The HoneyDark won. I remember walking around backstage and being extremely vocal about how I wanted in. They had the hottest underground dudes around in their battles and then they got their pictures in the magazine. Me, I had won a few street battles, sold a few singles and I was really feeling myself at the time. One of the dudes from the magazine recognized me and brought me onboard for the next battle they were throwing in the November. I remember that night at Tramps with thousands of Hip-Hop fans, DJ Cipha Sounds on the tables and Doug E. Fresh as the host. I was just getting over a massive cold, so I had the sweats and a bit of a fever. There was some serious nervous tension in the backstage area. Some dudes were even trying to psych each other out. It became extremely apparent to me that I was technically out of my league when I saw Proof and Lonnie B tear through their first round opponents. I was super intimidated by the crowd response to Dice Raw, especially since that was my first round opponent. The rest of the night was all fight or flight. I remember being stressed that the crowd called for another round against Pumpkinhead. I remember trying not to lose focus while spitting the written eight bars that would then allow me to springboard into the Aquaman line I’d made up minutes before the round started. Lastly, I remember Grandmaster Caz being stirred enough to give a speech at the end of the final round before the judging and totally validating the authenticity of the battle.”
“There was my last battle on MTV DFX in 2000. Their goal was to take me out after a few episodes of the show. I guess it was the MTV way of keeping things fresh. During my tenure as the DFX battle champ the show went through three hosts and several battle / judging formats. Each week I could feel the pressure mounting as they tried to find bigger and better contenders. I should have quit after my first head-to-head battle win. Something told me to walk away then but I didn’t listen. That next week things changed. Normally I got to size up the comp when they test shot the battles and announced the contender’s name the week before. That was extremely helpful to me because anyone coming up there knew I was the champ and knew who I was, so I could be ready for them too. The last week they kept the guy’s identity secret until the day of the battle. I was supposed to be retiring as champ, but instead I got served by someone I should’ve beaten. I was way too dependent on my preparation method. I learned from a subsequent defeat how to listen to that little voice.”
If the Breez of the late-90s was to battle the Breez of 2010 who would win?
“90s Breez would win. Battling is way different from song-writing and just plain freestyling. It’s like a muscle, either you use it or you lose it. I’m way rusty at this point. I might have a chance if it was something like Grind Time where you get to prepare for your battle in advance. 90s Breez used to walk through Times Square with C-Rayz Walz and Poison Pen screaming ‘Who wanna battle?!’ and we would bring it to any and all who stepped up for however many rounds they was holding for. That’s starving hunger right there. I’ve been fed now, so I’d get my ass handed to me. It would be worse than the last time I tried to dust off my battle raps at Scribble Jam.”
What do you think is the biggest challenge facing ‘mature’ emcees in the rap game today?
“I think the biggest challenge is finding someone willing to invest in them. I was born on the December 18 1970, so Hip-Hop came into existence as I did. Most of the mainstream Hip-Hop which once spoke volumes to me just doesn’t address my current needs as a grown man. When I was in high school I brought LPs from not only Public Enemy, but also Kid N Play and the Fat Boys. I liked shit that was slick and cool so I could escape through it. Now I’m looking for something to relate to instead of escape through and dudes my age are rapping about the dumbest shit. They try to impress the kids with ‘Look what I got’ raps, not ‘Look how I’ve grown.’ The ones speaking about real life issues and relating to the average joe are usually the ones struggling without any support. There are thousands of solid, mature albums very few will ever hear thanks to the lack of support for what I believe could be a potential market of mature urban listeners, The majority of which actually went for a job instead of the streets. Even if Wacka Flocka is their guilty pleasure they still have enough disposable income to invest in another LP download.”
If you could’ve written any rhyme from any other artist over the years which one would it be?
“It would be “Why Is That?” by KRS-One. That song hit me so hard. I still get chills when I listen to it. I like when Hip-Hop is used to explain things. To me, he struck at the root of the American government’s belief system by linking everything together according to biblical text. And he prefaces his thousand year journey with ‘You don’t teach white kids to be black.’ Having recently graduated from the NY public school system at the time of the song’s release in 1989, I felt both anger that I had been cheated out of a proper education and empowered that someone took notice and spoke out about it. I grew up seeing the Charlton Heston version of Moses every year in my South American Catholic household. I was even mad at that after hearing “Why Is That?”. It moved me to learn more about the truth untold, all based on asking one simple question, ‘Why is that?’ and taking a purely scientific look at the evidence without bias. A truth that I feel I’ve embedded in every song I’ve ever recorded whether it was just one line or an entire LP devoted to it. “Why Is That?” is one of the songs that remains on my permanent soundtrack for growing up in NYC.”
What Inspires Breez Evahflowin?
Breez Evahflowin Freestyle At Fat Beats NYC Closure.