In the final installment of my Omniscence interview, the North Carolina artist discusses recording with Sadat X in the 90s, parting ways with East West Records and his new EP “Sharp Objects” produced by Australia’s Debonair P – check Part One, Part Two and Part Three.
Sadat X featured on one of the remixes that appeared on the “Touch Y’All” single in 1996. Was that a collaboration that East West instigated or did you already have connections with Sadat?
“That’s a great question. I was at a party one night. I can’t remember exactly where, but it was an industry function. Like I said before, I was never that guy to be walking up to other artists and introducing myself because you never really know how you’re going to be received (laughs). So I was at this party with my man Sincere Thompson who was just an all-round business guy who had been behind various projects on the promotional side and he already knew Sadat. So he asked me what I thought about doing a song with Sadat X and I was like, ‘That’s a no-brainer!’ I mean, I was already such a fan of Sadat X from when he’d been with Brand Nubian and doing songs like “Concerto In X Minor”. Plus, there was also the Five Percent culture that Sadat represented, which I represented as well, so Sincere went ahead and put that together.”
Considering you were already a big fan of Sadat, were you in awe slightly when you actually got in the studio with him?
“You know what? I was, man (laughs). But by that time I’d really learnt how to conduct myself as a fan-slash-artist. But I remember it was just really cool, man. Sadat X came to the Hit Factory, which is where we recorded the song. Fanatic had hit him with three beats and I told Sadat he could choose whichever one he liked the most because I was feeling all three. So he picked the one with the Isaac Hayes sample. But yeah, we talked a lot about sports. He brought his man Mark Da Spark, but not MY man Mark Sparks (laughs). At that point my Mark had already done “I Like It” for Grand Puba and a few other joints on the “2000” album, so I asked Sadat if he was familiar with my Mark and told him that he was originally from our crew in North Carolina, and Sadat was like, ‘Yo, you know him? Yo, we’ve been looking for son, man? I want him to do something on my next project.’ So they were asking me if I could get in touch with him and whatever, although I believe we’re still to hear a Sadat X record produced by Mark Sparks so they still need to get that together (laughs). But that’s why I said on the “Touch Y’all” remix, ‘Kakalak and Now Rule reunited like Peaches & Herb’ because Puba and my Mark had already done the “I Like It” record, so by me and Sadat working together we were just reuniting North Carolina and New Rochelle one more time.”
Where did the concept for the “Touch Y’all” video come from because it really seemed to be tapping into some of the technological advances that were happening at the time around virtual reality etc?
“That was a concept brought to me by a director called Francis Lawrence who went on to direct some pretty big movies, including “I Am Legend” with Will Smith. We didn’t know each other before he was called upon to direct my video, but I remember him telling me what he wanted to do and describing how the concept behind the video was about me and my boys being able to touch all these different people across the world. He was describing how it was going to incorporate the virtual reality idea, with me putting the glasses on and everything. So basically, the concept was that it’s just me sat there rhyming, but what I’m seeing through these virtual reality glasses is me taking over the building, setting up satellites and everything so I can touch the world. It was a great concept for the video.”
One of my favourite lines on “Touch Y’all” was ‘You don’t understand, I never get dissed in rap, That’s like the Geto Boys doing Christian rap.’ But then, ironically, Bushwick Bill did go on to record Christian rap…
“Yeah he did (laughs). How crazy is that? That just shows you that you never know what’s going to happen in the future, man (laughs). But yeah, that was one of my favourite lines as well, and so far I never have been dissed in rap (laughs).”
So, at this point, the “Touch Y’all” single was out there and people were waiting on your album “The Raw Factor” to drop. Were there any tensions between yourself and Vincent Herbert at the time in terms of the musical direction you were going to move in, given the Biggie / Puffy comments you made earlier in the interview?
“I’ll be honest with you, me and Vince never had a problem at all. Vince is a great guy and I’m not just saying that to be politically correct or nothing like that. He still gave me the opportunity to get my music out there. I might have had the opportunity to go in different directions rather than signing with Vince, but who’s to say how things would have turned out if I had signed with a Chris Lighty or someone like that. So Vince still gave me that opportunity to get my music heard. But overall, we still had some hard records on “The Raw Factor”. I mean, I had mixed feelings about the album at the time because I had records on there that I really, really felt good about and then I had some other tracks that I still liked, but I was unsure if everyone else was going to like them (laughs). So there was no tension between me and Vincent, it was more an inner disagreement within myself about how some of the songs on “The Raw Factor” were going to pan out with those people who had last heard me on the “Funky One Liner” EP.”
So you were definitely feeling some pressure?
“I mean, I had been through a whole lot during that year living up in the city. Girls were in abundance, I was running around trying to smoke every blunt I could lay my hands on, I was going to the studio for late-night sessions, and then the nights I didn’t have to go to the studio I was partying. So I was really getting burnt out and the whole situation was a lot for a kid being the age I was then to take on mentally and physically. I mean, if you go back to the beginning of my story, where I was at by that time in the mid-90s was so far away from who I truly was, it was becoming a little overwhelming to be honest with you.”
There were a lot of artists tied-in with Elektra in the mid-90s such as Juggaknotz, Deda Baby Pa and Supernatural whose projects all got shelved in the same way as your album “The Raw Factor”. In your opinion, why did your album not come out?
“I don’t know what everyone else’s situation was, but with my situation, I know there were some sample clearance issues that had taken place. The budget for my album was perhaps not being used strictly for my album. I’ll never forget it, Busta Rhymes’ first solo album “The Coming” and my album were due to drop on the same day. I want to say it was March 26th, 1996. Busta and I were going to go on a promotional tour to push our albums, which ironically was going to start in North Carolina. I was very excited about it and I remember being out in New Jersey with some of my people celebrating and I was packing getting ready to roll out. I got a phone call from Vincent Herbert’s assistant telling me that we had to have a big meeting because Elektra weren’t ready to move forward with my album. Then when we had the meeting, Vincent’s take on it was that Elektra were tripping and his plan was to take me to another label and I remember he was talking about how we’d record new songs and everything. I remember saying, ‘Yo, I’ve done all of that work to get to this! I got signed in late-94 and here we are in 1996 and nothing’s really dropped out there aside from a couple of singles!’ Now the album wasn’t coming out, I’m getting mentally overwhelmed with everything that was going on, and I think overall Elektra had put a certain amount of money into me but hadn’t seen anything back from that. I mean, I wasn’t signed directly to Elektra like a Daddy D, a Lin Que or an 8-Off, I was signed to Vincent who then had a label deal with them. So I think Elektra had given Vincent a certain budget to use, not just for my album, but for any artist that was going to be on his label. So Elektra were on Vincent’s ass because of how long it was going to take to finish the album up because of the sample clearances, and I think they just decided that they couldn’t send me out on the road with Busta to promote an album that wasn’t actually ready to be released when they wanted it to be. So at the time when we had that meeting with the label, that was when I told Vincent that I appreciated everything he’d done for me, but that things weren’t really moving in the direction I wanted them to and I wanted to try something different. I mean, I could have carried on, but in my heart I knew it wasn’t the right thing for me anymore. It was time to just turn the car around and go back because if I hadn’t then I would’ve ended-up somewhere I didn’t really want to be. I was just drained, man. I wanted to go home (laughs). I just wanted to go back home for a minute and get my head together. I mean, the skills weren’t going anywhere, the love for the music wasn’t going anywhere, but I just needed a clearer head at the time. So that was the end of “The Raw Factor”, so we thought (laughs).”
How easy was it for you to make that transition from being a new artist, moving in industry circles and being on the verge of dropping your debut album to then going back to where it all started in North Carolina and leaving all of that behind?
“When I first got back it was real easy because around the way now I’m the man (laughs). People were like, ‘Yo! He’s back!’ Even in the bigger cities of North Carolina I was getting a great response from people when I first got home. So I was letting that stroke my ego for a minute. The women were still there, the weed was still there, whatever I needed. People were still treating me like I was their hero. But then as that slowly started to fade away I started to see reality and was like, ‘Yo! This s**t is over’ I realised that I needed to start over and re-grind (laughs). At that time, Fanatic had stayed on with Vincent for a little bit, which is when he did the “Crush On You” record with Lil’ Kim. I mean, Fanatic was still under Vincent’s umbrella when he was shopping a lot of his beats to artists. I know Biggie was a big fan of his work because Fanatic used to send beat-tapes to Mister Cee and I did actually meet Biggie one time and he did let me know that he knew who we both were. But Fanatic did finally end up coming back to North Carolina and we were like, ‘We can still do this!’ I mean, it was still 1996 when this happened, so we took it back to square one, put out a little compilation on 6th Boro and that’s where you got tracks like ” Stage Domination” and “Causin’ Terror”. But those records were a little harder than the previous material partly because I was hanging-out again with people who were involved in the street life and also because I had some frustrations about things not working out the way I’d wanted them to with the music.”
Were you being approached by other labels once it became clear you were a free agent again, or by that time was it a case of the majors looking for music with more commercial appeal and what you were doing didn’t really fit into that format?
“Yeah, I definitely agree with what you just said about the labels looking for something different by that time. But it was also down to me as well, because I’d been scorned by the industry, so I was mad, I was upset and I was determined not to get back into another situation like that unless everything was right. There were definitely some people who were interested in doing some things, but nothing that was truly the right fit for me.”
Moving forward a few years, with people’s access to the Internet having grown substantially by the late-90s / early-2000s, “The Raw Factor” quickly became an online Hip-Hop holy grail. Were you surprised when you saw the interest there still was in the album that was coming from all across the world?
“I would have to say that I wasn’t surprised and the reason why is because with the Hip-Hop fans across the water and in other countries there is such a love and respect for the music and culture as it grows older. That’s not to take anything away from the people here in the US who hold the culture so dearly, but in other places across the world, like in Europe, there has just always been such an interest in the history of the music and in those artists that contributed to Hip-Hop during that golden-era period. I’m not going to say that I always knew people were going to show me the amount of love for my music that I received when I started looking online, but once I started to see some of that feedback it made sense to me why those people remembered what I’d done. So I wasn’t surprised by the initial love that I received from people online, but I am surprised by the amount of love that I’ve received since then. I mean, if you’re into Hip-Hop and you know about an artist like an Omniscence or a Cella Dwellas, someone like that, then that means you’re really deep into this culture. I mean, so many people think Hip-Hop is just about what they’re hearing on the radio and they don’t understand or know about the many artists that have contributed to the culture over the years.”
The crew over at Dope Folks Records have recently put out some of your material from “The Raw Factor”, but you’ve also been working with Australia’s Debonair P who produced your new EP “Sharp Objects”. How did you approach putting the project together?
“Well, firstly I want to say that this new project illustrates one of the greatest thing about the Internet, that a talented brother like Debonair P can be all the way out in Australia but we can still connect to make some good music like we have done through our love for the culture. I mean, I’d been getting hit up for years about the old music with people offering me what I thought was insane amounts of money, but Debonair P was really the first person to hit me on the net and tell me that he was a big fan of my older music but to also ask if I would be interested in doing something new. I was like, ‘What? You really want to hear that?!’ The thing is, I never stopped recording music. Even after the situation with Elektra and everything, I still kept making music and never took my ear away from the culture. I mean, there have been some other people who’ve asked me to do some stuff, but Debonair P was the first person I felt was on the right vibe for me to be able to work with him. He came at me and said he wasn’t looking to make a killing off this, but he let me know what money he expected us to make, and he was just a straight-up cat and told me that he’d really like to hear me do something new. So the way that he came at me, I just felt that it was right. So we did the “Raw Factor 2.0” single last year, which I gave that title because I wanted to link it back to the old days so people could make that connection rather than just jump straight in with something different. I wanted to use that single to show people that I am still that emcee from that era, and now with the new “Sharp Objects” EP, that’s about letting people know that I’m older now, more mature, and there’s some topics that I want to address today that reflect the twenty years of living that I’ve done since that “Funky One Liner” EP and the music I made for the original “Raw Factor” album. But after this project, Debonair P and myself are also going to be working on a full-length album which will definitely feature some one-liner action because I know people still want to hear that from me and it’s my foundation as an emcee. I also want to take the opportunity to shout-out Dope Folks Records for re-releasing some of that older material from me.”
You mentioned earlier the part your Five Percent beliefs played in you working with Sadat X back in the 90s. How much of an influence, if any, do those beliefs have on the new music you’re making today?
“I think it probably has a greater influence on the music I’m making today than it did back then. I got into the whole Five Percent thing through some of my peers back in the day. There was a point in time when I really needed that and I went to them to be taught the lessons and I got into it very, very hard. But I would hear guys who were deep into the lessons and then when they would write their rhymes every line would contain a word from the lessons or a different reference. My thing was that I was an emcee first before I was a Five Percenter, so I wanted to always be able to appeal to someone who doesn’t know anything about the Supreme Mathematics, but at the same time I also wanted to always drop certain jewels or say certain things to let people know that, true indeed, I am the true and living God. But I’ve gotta be real, there were times when I fell off of my lessons, like when I was in New York recording “The Raw Factor”. I won’t say that was a period in time when I was most on-point with my lessons, even though I should have been. I was being overwhelmed by the industry and falling for certain temptations. But since coming back home I’ve been able regain a lot of the knowledge of self, and now I know how to approach it and really incorporate it into my music. Not to the point where I’m going too deep with it, but at the same time I’m not going to be saying anything so ignorant that it’s at odds with those beliefs. But anytime someone wants to test the God on anything from the School of Enrolment down to the Solar Facts and Actual Facts, then we can get into that. But I do want to start dropping more knowledge in the music I’m making today because that’s one regret I do have when I listen to my older music, that I didn’t do more of that”
So given the amount of experience you’ve had in the world of music over the last twenty-something years, what advice would you give to an upcoming emcee today?
“I would say to anyone to go back and study the beginnings of this music, the culture and the business and be knowledgeable about what you’re getting into. Don’t just jump in and think this music started right here. Now with the Internet there’s really no excuse for someone not to know the history of this great culture, man. Just try to find out where the music has already been before you get on that path to where you’re going. Plus, if you are looking to try and make some money off this music, be very prepared and have your business straight as far as your management and everything is concerned. Lastly, just let the music come from your heart, let it come straight from the soul. A lot of people ask me how I dealt with being out of the game and going from being an artist signed to a major label back to square one. But the thing is, that experience of being signed to a major label wasn’t really what I wanted it to be. So let it come from your heart when you’re making the music, but make sure you have everything else in place outside of the music.”
Follow Omniscence on Twitter (@Omniscence) and check the new “Sharp Objects” EP here.
Omniscence – “Sharp Objects” EP Snippets (Gentleman’s Relief / 2013)