Milano Constantine – “Striped Bass” (@Milano7Warriors / 2019)
The DITC-affiliated emcee showcases his trademark brand of fly Rotten Apple rhymes on this smooth Showbiz-produced cut off the forthcoming album “Boulevard Author”.
Milano Constantine – “Striped Bass” (@Milano7Warriors / 2019)
The DITC-affiliated emcee showcases his trademark brand of fly Rotten Apple rhymes on this smooth Showbiz-produced cut off the forthcoming album “Boulevard Author”.
Milano Constantine – “The Gospel” (@DITCEnt / 2019)
The Diggin’ In The Crates-affiliated emcee gets on his spiritual b-boy steez, where “every line is sharper than harpoons”, for this piano-laced banger off his forthcoming Showbiz-produced album “Boulevard Author”.
Milano Constantine – “What Kind Of S**t You Want?” (7 Warriors / 2012)
Snippet of some new P Brothers-produced rawness from the D.I.T.C. affiliate’s highly-anticipated “Boulevard Author” album.
Having spent the last decade blessing hungry Hip-Hop fanatics with a sporadic stream of cult classics such as 2000’s “Deal With A Feeling”, D.I.T.C. affiliate and NYC native Milano has definitely proven that sometimes less actually is more.
Whilst some artists have flooded the market in recent years with mixtapes and endless freestyles, only to be forgotten as quickly as they arrived, Milano’s considered approach to his craft has helped the Uptown Manhattan resident gain and maintain a dedicated fanbase.
Surrounded by Hip-Hop heavyweights since the beginning of his career, from catching the ear of Big Pun in the late-90s to working with esteemed producers such as Showbiz, T-Ray and the UK’s P Brothers, the Rotten Apple rhymer has consistently honed his talents and perfected his own style of observational, street-wise wordplay by combining the influences of his golden-era mentors with his own new-school flavour.
Now returning as a member of new crew Barbury’N alongside longtime D.I.T.C. cohort D-Flow and recent recruit Gage, the gritty emcee is focussed on building on his already strong foundations to leave his mark in the rap game throughout 2012 and beyond.
In this extensive interview, the man also known as Constantine speaks on working with his new crew, learning tricks of the production trade from Showbiz, and his plans to finally release his much-delayed “Blvd. Author” project.
You’ve recently introduced your new group Barbury’N to the rap world – considering you’ve always been known as a solo artist explain how the crew came together?
“Basically, I was building in the studio with Showbiz and we were talking about how we could still bring that D.I.T.C. flavour out there but try to do it in a new format with a younger generation. Show suggested that we put together a little group and I already knew D-Flow from the joints he’d done with A.G. and Party Arty and then there was a young kid we knew called Gage who’s sick with it, so that’s how we formulated the group. We decided we couldn’t just have a regular name and we were joking in the studio talking about how we kill bars and I said ‘Bars, we bury them’ and that turned into the group name Barbury’N (laughs). It goes deeper than us just looking like savages or something, it’s about how we kill those bars and really give everything in our rhymes. So the group concept really evolved from there.”
Does the music that will be coming from Barbury’N just have Showbiz on production?
“The mixtape project that we just completed just has Show on production, but for the album project Show will of course be on there and we were hoping to get DJ Premier to put something together. I’ve also dabbled in some beats myself so I’ve got two joints on there which are real powerful.”
So Barbury’N is definitely an official group rather than just a few emcees coming together to drop a one-off mixtape?
“I would say so and at the same time I’m still manifesting my solo thing. Hopefully that will give the project a little more umph as you know how fans tend to gravitate towards family-orientated crews. So we really wanted to create some buzz with Barbury’N and then we can still continue to put music out as a group but that buzz will hopefully mean that we can get a little more attention when we drop solo material. I know people are still looking out for Milano solo projects, so my plan is to drop a mixtape after this Barbury’N project and then put an album or EP out soon after that.”
You mentioned earlier about Barbury’N being the next generation of D.I.T.C. which is a tag that you’ve been carrying since you came out over a decade ago with singles like “Deal With A Feeling” – considering the legacy of D.I.T.C. is that something you’ve ever felt pressured by?
“I just roll with it because if you’re cut from the cloth then that feeling will naturally come out in my music. I come from the essence of it and I’m at where it all began everyday so it’s not something I really have to study because it is what it is. I understand that to add on to that D.I.T.C. legacy I still have to bring forth music that’s high quality and stay in my zone but when I make music and write my rhymes I’m coming from the essence of what this music is, so as long as I continue to do that then I feel that what I bring out will be successful in giving people what they’re hoping for.”
How did you initially become part of the D.I.T.C. family?
“I knew Show through a family member from when I was about twelve-years-old and I always used to run up on him telling him that I could rhyme. Even back then, Show would be like ‘Wow! The s**t you’re saying is crazy for someone your age. You sound like Nas or someone.’ Hearing someone who was already in the game and working with some great emcees say stuff like that really kept me going. So I continued rhyming which then lead to me meeting Big Pun during a cypher up in D&D which is how I then got to do the “Where Ya At?” joint with Pun for the D.I.T.C. album. At that time I was having a lot of fun and really living in a dream world. I mean, Pun was still coming off the success of “I’m Not A Player” and his debut album so for him to say he wanted to do a song with me at that time was crazy. I was like, ‘You’d love to do a song with me?! I’d love to do a song with you!’ That feels like it was a long time ago now, so for me to still be relevant to people today and for them to love the feel of the music I make is something that’s heartfelt and it’s why I keep going whether making music is a lucrative situation or not. It comes from my heart and I think the people out there can feel that in everything I do. It’s just all about me staying in my zone, so it goes back to what I said on that joint I did with The P Brothers for their “Gas” album (laughs).”
Do you think artists today are too quick to try and please everyone rather than actually concentrating on creating their own unique style?
“If you stay in your own time capsule then nothing else around you can penetrate that. You see other artists out there making music that has a Midwest type of feel or has a Southern twang to it now and the music they came out with before wasn’t like that. I just stay in my lane. A lot of artists out there are confused right now and don’t know what to do because of all these new trends that come along. So they make music that sounds confused because they’re trying too hard to be something that they’re not just to keep up with new trends. F**k the trends! That’s all bulls**t anyway because trends come and go but some people still seem to fail to realise that. But I’ve seen artists go through that and that’s why I feel good when I come out and people tell me that my music always has that same essence to it because I just stay in my lane and make the music that comes from my heart.”
With that being said, do you feel you have a responsibility to keep that traditional New York sound alive?
“I feel that I must because I was with the greats like Big L and Big Pun and I would be doing artists like that an injustice if I didn’t come with that East Coast essence everytime that I came out. I’m trying to do my part to help keep their spirits alive and also represent the legacy of so many other great New York artists in my music. You have to do that. I might go off and do something a little different on some digital s**t, but it’s still coming from that original essence because Bambaataa was digital when he came out with Soul Sonic Force. But yeah, I do feel that I have a responsibility to keep that traditional New York sound alive because to know your past is to know your future, so it’s important for these new emcees coming up today to understand what came before them and know the foundations that they’re standing on.”
What do you consider to be the main differences between the underground scene you came up in during the 90s and today’s underground scene?
“The music now is not as strong as it was. There’s a lot of bulls**t out there, and if people keep pushing it out there that it’s the bulls**t that’s hot, then that in turn is going to evolve into there being a lot of bulls**t artists. That’s why I just have to stay in my area because a lot of the music that’s being made today isn’t really what I’m about. I mean, you have the Internet now which is really helping a lot of these young kids get out there. I can’t really hate on the new generation because they’re putting their own flavour in the music, but to me the essence just isn’t there. I mean, of course the music will always adapt and evolve, but I don’t think that should happen to the point where it’s completely removed from what it started as. So I just maintain and do what I need to do. I mean, it’s not as organic as it used to be because some of these kids are doing everything online whereas we were out in the trenches rhyming in cyphers and really having to show and prove. In my opinion, coming up during the time period that I did really contributed to me being more of an all-round artist and I feel privileged to have come up during that time and been around the artists that I was around. It was more about the actual music back then and skills whereas today it’s very much a visual era. Today, an artist can just go to store and you can have someone filming it, edit it properly, put it on YouTube and people will watch that. It’s very much about being seen constantly and keeping your name out there, but people need to remember that you still have to have quality music.”
Looking back over your career, are there any particular moments that you feel helped define you as an artist?
“The whole Pun situation was crazy when I was in that D&D cypher which started off with twenty emcees and then ended with just me and Pun rhyming, so that was something great. I remember being in the studio with Big L one time and he was someone who always wanted to rhyme. There were eight emcees in the studio with us at the time and I saw him tear up every single one, one after another. I was like ‘Wow! He just went bananas on these dudes.’ There was another time I was with L at D&D and we were getting ready to leave the studio and were downstairs. L had a session up there and he leaned out the window and was like, ‘Yo! Give me five minutes so I can lay this verse and I’ll be right down.’ I’m thinking it’s impossible for someone to lay a verse and do ad-libs in five minutes. The next thing I know, guess who’s downstairs in the car with me? I’m like, ‘Yo? You finish your verse?!’ L just looked at me and was like, ‘Yeah, the s**t is done, don’t even worry about it.’ The next day we went back to the studio and heard the song he’d knocked out his verse for in those five minutes. I can’t even bulls**t you, I can’t remember exactly what song it was, but listening to that verse knowing he knocked it out in one take, I was like ‘Yo, I really am around masters of this music.’ It really hit me then that if you weren’t striving to become a master of your own s**t then at some point someone in the crew was really going to embarrass you. From then on, I always stayed on point so that if anyone asked me to rhyme, my sword was always ready. I mean, Pun was the same way with how he approached his craft. He used to carry his rhyme book around everywhere, and he’d pull it out with all these food stains on it (laughs). Whenever I’d see Pun he’d ask to hear something and I literally had to rhyme for him everytime he asked. It had to be something new that he hadn’t heard from me before and it had to be something crazy. That was something that would keep any emcee on their toes. You had to be ready at all times…”
And back then catching a loss in a battle or freestyle session was pretty much considered the be-all-and-end-all to any emcee worth their rhyme book…
“Exactly. You had to always be ready because you never knew when you were going to have to show and prove which could then lead to opportunities. So those are some of the memories that really stand out to me when I think back. I remember another time when I was working with T-Ray, he’d just flown out to New York from the West Coast and he called me up to tell me The Beatnuts were in session downtown for their “Milk Me” album and he asked if I wanted to go to the studio with him. I was like, ‘Of course I want to go to the studio! I love The Beatnuts!’ When we got to the studio they really showed me so much love and were like ‘Yo! You wanna be on the album?’ I’m like, ‘Of course! You’re the epitome of that raunchy, hardcore Hip-Hop, I love that s**t!’ (laughs) So straight away I got on the track and did my thing. It’s moments like that and the ones I mentioned with Pun and Big L that were pivotal in me doing what I do today.”
When you look at crews such as the Juice Crew, Wu-Tang and D.I.T.C. it seemed as if everyone was pushing each other to elevate their craft because there was so much talent within each camp and nobody wanted to be the emcee that fans weren’t feeling as much. Nowadays, it seems like many artists are happy to be mediocre and because that seems to be the general standard rappers aren’t really inspiring each other to step their game up anymore…
“You’re right and unfortunately that’s just how it is nowadays where a lot of emcees really aren’t pushing themselves to keep their skills sharp. But if the overall standard is low then the bar that people feel they need to compete with is also very low. But that’s why it’s good that you still have crews out there in the mainstream like Slaughterhouse and even the members of The Lox who are still showing that you do have to keep that bar raised. I mean, when I joined forces with D-Flow and Gage to form Barbury’N, in my mind I was thinking that those are the kind of crews that we’d be competing with, so we couldn’t come with any bulls**t. So all three of us knew individually that we each had to bring our best to the table. If you’ve made some bulls**t, you’ve got no-one else to blame but yourself. I mean, a lot of artists have a lot of ‘yes’ men in the studio with them telling them their verses are crazy when they’re more likely the worst thing they’ve ever done. We don’t have anybody like that around us in the studio. I mean, even if we think something sounds finished, someone like Show might come into the session and tell us the hook on a track doesn’t sound as strong as it could and needs doing over. So we’ll do the hook again. I mean, when I’m writing my rhymes, I’ll read them over and maybe pick up on a certain word that sounds okay, but then I think I could go further into my brain and pull out a better choice of word for what I’m trying to say. So I’m always pushing myself. But it’s not like that with a lot of emcees nowadays, they’ll write something real quick and be like ‘That’s cool. That’s good enough.’ I could never be like that with my rhymes. My whole thing is about being descriptive with it to the point where if a blind person was sitting down listening to my music they would be able to see everything I’m talking about in their mind through my rhymes and really picture it. People need to get back to really putting effort into their lyrics.”
Do you think part of the reason why some emcees don’t put that sort of effort into their rhymes today is because music is viewed by many as disposable now with downloading etc so artists don’t even expect people to be listening to a track or album for a long period of time?
“You’re right because a lot of artists today aren’t trying to make music with longevity in mind because everything now moves so fast. But that’s why, although my music might come in installments rather than a constant stream, I try to make sure that each installment is worthy of praise. I really zone out with my rhymes and I always like to really make sure there’s a marriage between what I’m saying and the music. I just try to bless it correctly and only when I feel that I’ve done that will I present it to the masses.”
Radio has always played a massive part in the New York Hip-Hop scene but in recent years a huge gap seems to have appeared between what’s being played on stations like Hot 97 and what people are actually listening to on the street. How much influence do you feel radio still has in NYC?
“It’s been said before, but if you turn on the radio in New York you’d think you were down South somewhere (laughs). It’s wild. I mean, God bless everyone from wherever they’re at, because every location has had their own struggles to get where they are as far as Hip-Hop is concerned. But now that the radio sounds the way it does, a lot of New York rappers feel they have to transform their sound and emulate what’s being played and that’s where everything starts to go wrong because instead of being originators we’re being followers. It’s a strange time.”
That must really be a bitter pill to swallow though for artists who’re making quality, traditional East Coast Hip-Hop to not get that hometown support from certain radio stations?
“But that’s what happens when it becomes a job to people and the politics become involved along with all the bread and under-handed stuff that goes on to make sure certain records get played. You know how the industry is. But that’s why it’s important to just keep pumping them and building your buzz, playing the game a little and getting those visuals out there for people to bite on, and then it gets to a point where the people at those radio stations have to pay attention to what you’re doing and have to support you. So aside from dropping fly, quality music you also have to show that you’ve got just as much drive and initiative as these other dudes that are coming up with mediocre music.”
Switching the subject, you mentioned earlier that you’re producing beats now…
“I thank God that I’ve acquired the ability to make quality beats. I think when you hear them you’ll flip out Ryan, like ‘Oh s**t! That’s alright. I love how he chopped that up!’ (laughs) I’m chopping samples up like a savage and Show is listening to my beats like, ‘This is crazy! That’s my man!’ (laughs) So I feel great that I’m honing in on that and really coming up with some quality beats.”
Was production something that you always intended to get involved with or did it happen by chance?
“It was always something that I wanted to get into when I had the opportunity. I had a very musical family, with my mother, my father, God bless the dead, and my brother. My father was always into his jazz, so I was hearing a lot of Thelonious Monk and music from greats like that. My brother was all about early Hip-Hop, so I was hearing all the original classics and breakbeats. Then my mother, who’s Spanish, she was listening to all the merengue, the Fania All-Stars, Hector Lavoe and all of them. So that being said, I always had rhythms and sounds in my head, so from early on I was bringing tracks that I wanted to sample to Show and asking him if he could listen to it, do what he do and chop it up for me. But while he was doing that, I was in there watching everything that he was doing and learning how to use the equipment. So it was a natural progression from me knowing what samples I wanted to use, to me actually taking those samples myself and getting it done.”
I’m guessing that Showbiz must have been quite a hard mentor when you were asking for feedback with him knowing you’d be coming out telling people he played a part in schooling you on making beats?
“Yeah, man, for real (laughs). I really took it seriously though and just really watched everything he did. Being around Lord Finesse was a huge help as well, because you know that Finesse is a master when it comes to these beats. I was in the studio watching how Finesse rock out, I was watching how Diamond D bang out his stuff, watching how Ahmed would chop stuff up. I was just in there like a quiet apprentice taking it all in, watching and learning.”
Now that you’re familiar with the production process, has that changed the way you listen to other producer’s beats when people who might want to collaborate send you tracks etc?
“Now, I would probably have to hear something that I think is out of this world because sometimes now dudes will play me beats and I’ll be like, ‘Well, I could’ve made that myself.’ So I’m not going to take a beat from someone that I could’ve done myself. It would have to be something that I think is really crazy. I get a lot of emails from dudes sending me beats and most of them will be something that’s trying to sound like a beat Showbiz or DJ Premier would make. If I want someone to make me a beat that sounds like Show or Premier, I’ll just go get it from them (laughs). But working on my own beats has definitely given me an insight, so I pick up on different things now when I’m listening to beats from outside producers and I can tell whether it was a slap-dash five minute job or if someone has really put their time in on a track.”
Getting back to the lyrics, do you have a particular creative process you go through when writing rhymes?
“Usually, during the day I’ll be out walking in the street, picking my son up, reading the newspaper, hearing conversations, and mentally I’m collecting thoughts and words all day. Then I’ll sit down at night and start putting things together. Maybe a particular word I heard that day might spark a thought, or something I’ve seen, and I’ll just sit and start zoning and creating a rhyme based around that. If I have a particular beat that I’m trying to write to, I’ll be putting rhymes together in my head during the day, thinking of things, and then when I get home I’ll jot it all down and start putting it down. I can pretty much write anywhere though. I’m not one of these dudes who can only write in the studio or something like that. I just kind of go inside myself. If I was in some small West African village, I could just zone out and write. If I was in Siberia somewhere, I could still write (laughs). As long as I’m peaceful and calm, I can zone out and come up with something.”
You’ve definitely always been an emcee that you really have to sit down and listen to because you pack so much into your verses. You seem to have a real skill for using the streets as the context for your rhymes but then you take the listener outside of that world and give some real food for thought that’s universal and not just relevant to people living that street life…
“I’ve learned that sometimes you can go to far with it and go over someone’s head so it’s not about clubbin’ people over the head with some scholarly s**t all the time, it’s about achieving a balance in your writing so that anyone can take something from it. The thing is, when I was growing-up on my block, I wasn’t selling crack as a teenager or bustin’ guns, but that was around me. So when I started rhyming, I couldn’t say that I was doing that, so the challenge to me was to incorporate what I was seeing in my environment and write about it correctly so that I would still be respected for being street-wise and the streets would still feel me. So I came at it from a different angle just trying to be descriptive, breaking everything down so that when you listened to my music I was taking you for a walk through my environment and you would be able to see everything that goes on there. From a rat running across the street, to someone looking out their window seeing what’s going on, to someone stood on the corner doing their thing. But at the same time, I was no fool, I went to school, I studied English and things of that nature, so I still wanted to give people that proper grammar and then flip it back to the streets. I felt that if I could incorporate all of those elements in my rhymes, then I would really have something. Then once I really started to work at it I really started to move into my own zone and come with my own style that had that balance.”
Unfortunately a lot of emcees today aren’t trying to achieve that same balance though, it’s about style over substance and flow over content. In my opinion, to be considered a great emcee you of course have to have your own style and be nice with your delivery, but on top of just sounding good what you’re actually saying also has to have some substance beyond just being words that rhyme…
“Exactly, and I always bring it back to me being around some of the top emcees in the game early in my career because that was something that I learnt from them. I mean, do you remember when Big L dropped “Ebonics”? That was crazy! Those rhymes sounded incredible but there was also so much thought that went into them. So from early on, I was thinking ‘Okay, this is the level of quality that I have to maintain.’ If you played a lot of Pun’s rhymes from back then today, he could still take out a whole crew with just one verse because he used to pack so much in there with his flow, the imagery he’d use and his punchlines.”
It’s funny you should say that as I was just listening to Fat Joe’s second album the other day from 1995 and when Pun dropped his “Snatch the moon out the sky and blow the sun away” rhyme on “Watch Out” I was thinking the same thing…
“Yeah, I remember that rhyme, that was when he was still known as Moon Dog. But you can hear the hunger in that verse and that’s the way I was approaching my rhymes back then as well because it was always a dream for me to come out but I just never knew when it was going to happen. So I was always trying to write rhymes that went beyond the time I was in that I felt would still carry an impact in years to come, and that’s still how I approach what I do today.”
So what are the plans for 2012?
“We just finished the artwork on “The Constantine Tapes” which is going to be a mixtape with about ten or twelve songs. I’m also looking to finally drop that “Blvd Author” project and we got the Barbury’N album coming after the mixtape. So we’re definitely looking to get our brand out there and I’m also working with a partner of mine to get our own label Fiyah Sounds up and running. So for 2012 I’m just looking to be wherever I need to be to get the ball rolling and let people know that I’m still out here with quality music.”
Barbury’N – “Living At Still” (Mugshot Music / 2011)
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