Lewis Parker ft. Verbz – “When It Rains It Pours” (@KingUnderground / 2018)
Dusty-fingered, horn-laced greatness from the man with the golden sound.
Lewis Parker ft. Verbz – “When It Rains It Pours” (@KingUnderground / 2018)
Dusty-fingered, horn-laced greatness from the man with the golden sound.
Lewis Parker ft. Verbz – “When It Rains It Pours” (@LewisParker_ / 2018)
The Man With The Golden Sound returns with a sublime slice of sample-based Hip-Hop lifted from his forthcoming EP on the KingUnderground label.
Lewis Parker – “Release The Stress” (@LewisParker_ / 2016)
The talented UK producer-on-the-mic proves once again why he’s known as The Man With The Golden Sound on this new single via the KingUnderground imprint.
$amhill – “Poetic Justice 3” (@MoeMiller96 / 2016)
Produced by UK beat king Lewis Parker and taken from the Bronx emcee’s forthcoming EP “The Epilogue”.
Ka & Preservation – “Days With Dr. Yen Lo” (Mon Dieu Music) – Partly inspired by the classic 1962 film “The Manchurian Candidate”, Brooklyn’s Ka once again teamed-up with producer Preservation to craft this understated masterpiece. Combining minimalist, atmospheric soundscapes with Ka’s vivid-yet-subtle lyrical craftmanship, this project was the sonic equivalent of driving through inner-city New York in slow-motion, looking out the window and watching some of the Rotten Apple’s eight million stories unfolding right in front of your eyes.
Union Blak – “Street English” (Effiscienz) – UK / US duo Sir Williams and Kimba followed-up their 2014 debut for France’s Effiscienz imprint with another quality selection of melodic, uplifting boom-bap and inspirational rhymes, with the pair’s shared love of Hip-Hop and passion for their respective crafts shining through on every track.
Jise – “The Passion Of Jise” (Creative Juices Music) – Part conceptual, part semi-autobiographical, this intense solo project from Arsonists member Jise One was a dramatic, well-executed sonic roller-coaster which found the Brooklyn emcee pushing the creative envelope as he told emotionally-charged stories from various character perspectives over well-chosen production from the likes of Q-Unique, DJ Insite and Dras79.
Spit Gemz – “Godly Features” (Broken Home) – As one of the illest emcees to have emerged from NYC in recent years, it came as no surprise to hear Queens resident Spit Gemz holding his own against veteran wordsmiths such as Tragedy Khadafi, Kool G Rap and Shabaam Sahdeeq on this potent release. A tour-de-force of verbal skill, “Godly Features” showcased Gemz delivering a standard of lyricism that many artists today could only hope to aspire to.
BOOM – “From PG, With Love” (DTMD.BandCamp.Com) – Maryland microphone master BOOM delivered slick, self-assured rhymes over soulful beats on this debut project produced entirely by Dunc of DTMD fame. Representing for his Prince George’s County stomping grounds, the talented artist exuded a quiet confidence throughout this nine-track release which couldn’t fail to endear him to listeners.
The Kingdom – “Kingdom Come” (TheKingdomMusic.BandCamp.Com) – Following up last year’s impressive “No Rest In The Kingdom” project, North Carolina-based duo King Draft and Jerm Scorcese returned with the boundary-pushing “Kingdom Come”, an album that successfully blended future-shock soul vibes, dusty samples and accomplished, intelligent wordplay into one cohesive, rewarding listening experience.
Pete Rock – “Petestrumentals 2” (Mello Music Group) – Mount Vernon’s legendary Chocolate Boy Wonder emerged from his basement once again with a new collection of instrumental flavours for 2015, expanding on his trademark production style which influenced a generation of beat-makers. Capturing a variety of sonic tones and textures, Pete did his legacy justice here, effortlessly retaining his title of Hip-Hop’s Soul Brother #1.
Cold Fusion – “The Elixir” (RingzOVSaturn.BandCamp.Com) – Prior to the 2015 release of the Triple Darkness album “Darker Than Black” (previously mentioned in Part One of this list), group members Ray Vendetta and Cyrus Malachi set the year off with this hardcore jewel, meshing their heavy mental wordplay with the gritty, atmospheric boom-bap of HellzEcho production partnership Ringz Ov Saturn and 7th Dan. “The Elixir” stood as proof that there will always be those whose motivation for picking up a microphone runs deeper than simply chasing overnight success, fame and fortune.
Starvin B & Fel Sweetenberg – “Soul Museum” (Effiscienz) – Backed by the knocking production of New Jersey’s Fel Sweetenberg, the always-impressive Starvin B added another worthy project to his ever-expanding catalogue with this succinct, straight-to-the-point release for France’s Effiscienz label.
Chrome & Illinspired – “The All C N I” (B-Line Recordings) – A throwback to the late-80s when the BPMs of hardcore Hip-Hop inspired immediate dancefloor activity, this release from UK duo Chrome & Illinspired was packed with frantic drums, lively loops, fast-paced cuts and high-velocity verbals. If you could listen to this album without breaking into The Running Man at least once, you really needed to get your pulse checked.
Apathy – “Weekend At The Cape” (Dirty Version Records) – Released as a companion EP to 2014’s “Connecticut Casual” album, “Weekend…” found the acid-tongued Demigodz member once again drawing inspiration from his New England surroundings, delivering typically thorny barbs over largely self-produced beats which ranged from the funky to the melancholy.
Maffew Ragazino – “VII Million Stories” (WPG) – A potent dose of traditional Rotten Apple rap, Brooklyn’s Ragazino undoubtedly made his borough proud with this street-savvy combination of hard-knock sentiments, motivational jewels and life lessons.
Mellow Man Ace – “The Lost Decade” (Ultra Slump! Records) – Perhaps one of the most unexpected releases of 2015 came in the form of this album from California veteran Mellow Man Ace. Dropping his own brand of Latin lingo over funky, soulful soundscapes, with the likes of Dinco D (Leaders Of The New School), Jarobi (ATCQ) and Ultra Slump! label-mate Cazal Organism on-hand to offer lyrical assistance, the West Coast emcee delivered a project that was as refreshing as it was nostalgic.
BRTSound – “Boombap Therapy” (DirtyBeauty) – After checking the title of this release from Russian producer BRTSound, it would have been easy to be misled into thinking you were going to be hearing the work of an unaccomplished beat-head simply attempting to emulate their favourite DJ Premier tracks. However, “Boombap Therapy” was an impressive eight-track effort which found the Moscow music man drawing on both his love of heavy drums and mellow jazz grooves, resulting in what was one of the best instrumental projects heard in 2015.
AUTOmatic – “ARISING” (AUTOmatic.BandCamp.Com) – Milwaukee, Wisconsin’s A.P.R.I.M.E., Trellmatic and JDL Rockwell combined organic, infectious feel-good vibes with down-to-earth rhymes and soulful, organic beats on this polished five-track EP.
Nolan The Ninja – “f_ck the hype” (NolanTheNinja.BandCamp.Com) – This highly-anticipated project from Detroit’s Nolan The Ninja showcased the 23-year-old artist’s ferocious flow and gritty delivery to great effect, with the passionate producer-on-the-mic being joined by Phat Kat, Finale and Hassaan Mackey as he verbally attacked a selection of raw, basement-style beats.
UGeorge – “The Many Faces Of UGeorge” (WorldExpo Records) – The Atlanta-based Soundsci member unleashed his brilliant solo project “The Many Faces Of…” towards the end of the year, featuring UGeorge defining the term ‘grown-man rap’ as he invited listeners into the world of the proud “40-year-old rapper”, tackling a number of topics with a true-school attitude over impeccable production from Ollie Teeba, Jonny Cuba, SilentSomeone and more.
Lewis Parker & Eastkoast – “MK Ultra” (KingUnderground Records) – Talented UK producer Lewis Parker (aka The Man With The Golden Sound) laced NY-raised emcee Eastkoast with a typically high-standard of beats on this captivating collaborative effort featuring Shabaam Sahdeeq, $amhill and El Da Sensei.
Grand Daddy I.U. – “P.I.M.P.” (Steady Flow Records) – The tone of this album from veteran Strong Island emcee Grand Daddy I.U. was summed up succinctly by just one lyric – “I don’t make trap music, I ain’t from down South, I make New York Hip-Hop, ‘Cos that’s what I’m about.” Combining the same blend of slick street talk and cocky bravado heard on his 1990 debut “Smooth Assassin”, the Rotten Apple wordsmith embraced his OG status in no uncertain terms on this release, proving that with age comes wisdom, experience and the right to slap a young buck in the domepiece.
Constant Deviants – “Avant Garde” (Six2Six Records) – Two decades after their debut, the Baltimore / NY duo of DJ Cutt and M.I. proved they were still capable of delivering quality beats and rhymes, with their music remaining rooted in the group’s golden-era origins without sounding stuck in the past. Displaying a creative chemistry that deserved to be compared to that once shared by the likes of Gang Starr or Pete Rock & CL Smooth in their prime, this fourth full-length Constant Deviants project found Cutt and M.I confirming a definite mastery of their distinctive brand of authentic East Coast flavour.
Part Four coming soon.
Lewis Parker – “Mellow Blow” (LewisParker_ / 2015)
UK producer-on-the-mic Lewis Parker, aka The Man With The Golden Sound, returns with a dusty dose of his typically dope SP1200 magic.
Talented UK producer Lewis Parker (aka The Man With The Golden Sound) laces NY-raised emcee Eastkoast with a typically high-standard of beats on this captivating collaborative effort featuring Shabaam Sahdeeq, $amhill, El Da Sensei and more.
Lewis Parker & Eastkoast ft. Shabaam Sahdeeq & El Da Sensei – “Superior MC’s” (@KingUnderground)
Posse cut vibes from the UK / US duo’s forthcoming album “MK Ultra: Operation Hypnosis”.
Bronx emcee $amhill drops his long-awaited album “The $amhill Story” just in-time to kick-start 2015 and has made the project available for free download until January 5th.
Featuring production from the likes of Minnesota, RTNC and The Legion’s Molecules, with the UK’s Lewis Parker on mastering duties to make sure those beats thump, “The $amhill Story” is a raw, timeless mix of personal experiences, street observations, blunt humour and Rotten Apple attitude.
The overall vibe of the album is best described by $amhill himself on the Chop Da Beatz-produced “The Benches” – “You gotta understand, we from the Bronx, man…We represent, like, a different type of sound and era…”
Download “The $amhill Story” here.
$amhill – “The Benches” (@MoeMiller96 / 2014)
Lewis Parker-directed visuals for this Chop Da Beatz-produced head-nodder from the Bronx emcee’s long-awaited album “The $amhill Story” dropping this week.
Eastkoast – “All Or Nothing” (@KingUnderground / 2014)
The UK’s Lewis Parker once again demonstrates his mastery of sample-based production with this sublime track off his forthcoming “MK Ultra (Operation Hypnosis)” collabo album with NYC’s Eastkoast.
Lil Dap – “Code Of Silence” (@KingUnderground / 2014)
The Group Home emcee drops raspy rhymes over a typically dope Lewis Parker beat.
UK label KingUnderground have dropped the instrumental version of Lewis Parker’s epic self-produced double-album “The Glass Ceiling” which was easily one of last year’s best releases – hit the link below and understand exactly why sample-king LP is known as the man with the golden sound.
Having dropped last year’s epic double-album “The Puzzle Episode Two: The Glass Ceiling”, UK producer-on-the-mic Lewis Parker (in conjunction with KingUnderground) is now unleashing the instrumental version of the project to allow listeners the opportunity to fully appreciate his supreme talents behind the boards.
A true master of his craft, tracks included here such as “World On My Shoulders” and “Walking On A Razor (Part 2)” showcase Parker’s ability to blend rugged, boom-bap drums with sublime, melodic samples that add real sonic depth to each beat that escapes from his trusty SP.
Rotten Apple realness produced by Lewis Parker and taken from the album “Keepers Of The Lost Art”.
The crew behind NY’s No Ideas Original radio show have compiled a mammoth collection of freestyles from artists that have joined them on the airwaves in recent years including Milano, Lewis Parker, Wyld Bunch, F.T., Snaggapus, Neek The Exotic and many more underground lyrical heavyweights – check Vol. 1, Vol 2 and Vol.3.
Photo by Monifa Skerritt-Perry
If you were an underground Hip-Hop head back in the 90s, it’s almost guaranteed that you’ll have some Shabaam Sahdeeq wax still taking up space in your vinyl crates.
Officially debuting in 1996 with his indie single “So Real”, the Brooklyn-bred emcee’s slick wordplay over producer Jocko’s smooth Patrice Rushen-sampling beat captured the attention of listeners in record stores the world over, leading to Sahdeeq quickly carving out space for himself in the then steadily growing independent New York rap scene.
Joining the likes of Mos Def, Company Flow and Talib Kweli, Shabaam soon found himself reppin’ the razor-blade insignia of the newly-established underground powerhouse Rawkus Records, dropping well-received singles such as 97’s “Side 2 Side” and 98’s “Soundclash”, whilst also making appearances on the label’s “Soundbombing” compilations plus the remix to then label-mate Pharoahe Monch’s monster 1999 single “Simon Says”.
Whilst label politics would see the Rotten Apple rhymer leaving Rawkus without releasing his own album, Sahdeeq’s reputation for dropping quality music remained unscathed thanks to both his collaborative work with Mr. Complex, DJ Spinna and Apani B. Fly as Polyrhythm Addicts and further singles with the likes of New Jersey’s Ran Reed (“Murderous Flow”) and golden-era great Kool G. Rap (“No Surrender”).
However, by the time Shabaam had settled at new label home Raptivism and recorded his debut solo album “Never Say Never”, personal drama and a brush with the law would find the lyricist beginning a four-year jail sentence just before the project’s 2001 release.
Having spent his time since returning home steadily working on music to regain his fanbase, Sahdeeq recently joined forces with Netherlands-based label Below System and is preparing to drop his long-awaited album “Keepers Of The Lost Art”, an impressive work of true-school Hip-Hop featuring production from the UK’s Lewis Parker plus DJ Skizz and Harry Fraud, as well as appearances from Spit Gemz, Skyzoo and Tragedy Khadafi.
In this interview, the Crooklyn microphone fiend discusses how he first found his passion for rhyming, being signed to Rawkus and the motivation behind his music today.
What are your earliest memories of Hip-Hop?
“I started hearing Hip-Hop at a very early age growing-up in Brooklyn out in the courtyard around our building. Older cousins and uncles would be playing Hip-Hop on their radios. I’d say the first record I heard though that really drove it home to me that Hip-Hop was something I wanted to be a part of was Run-DMC’s “Sucker M.C.’s”. I can remember copping a lot of vinyl singles back in the 80s, like Doug E. Fresh’s “The Show”. I’d also be listening to Hip-Hop on the radio, and back then in New York it was either Mr. Magic or Red Alert, so I’d be going up and down the dial listening to both stations and recording it on tape.”
You weren’t taking sides in the Mr. Magic / Red Alert rivalry then?
“Nah (laughs). I was rolling with both of them and really enjoying the music I was hearing them playing. I remember, at that same time in the 80s, I had an older friend who had a basement with a record player down there and he would be playing me early stuff from people like Dr. Jeckyll & Mr. Hyde, things like that. So I was really being made aware of a lot of the music that was out back then. I mean, even before that, I’d heard the Sugarhill Gang’s “Rapper’s Delight” being played at the house parties that the grown-ups would have at that time. I liked “Rapper’s Delight”, but Hip-Hop was coming in from the disco era at that time, but after that is when it started to get rawer musically and that’s when I really started to get into it, from the early-to-mid-80s.”
At what point did you first start attempting to rhyme?
“So, I went from just listening and enjoying the music to freestyling over records and having fun joking around with friends. Then after awhile it was like, ‘Okay, we can really do this.’ So then it went from just freestyling in the park or the basement to actually trying to loop up break-beats and really wanting to do something with the music. I mean, I was rhyming with other kids who at the time I thought were amazing and that really put the bug in me to want to continue making music. What really did it for me in particular though was seeing the live battles that people would have. I had a friend named Kev, who was actually the cousin of my step-brother, and I saw him battle live and at that point I was really like, ‘Yeah, I wanna do that!’ It was live, it was raw and the stuff he was saying was like, ‘Ohhhhh!’ The energy was tangible and was different to how I felt when I was listening to Hip-Hop on a record. I mean, the records we were hearing at the time were more concept-driven and were being made for people to be able to relate to. But the battles were just raw material and were live in the flesh. Instead of saying a rhyme that maybe somebody listening could relate to, battling was all about chopping someone down according to what they were wearing, who they were and things that might have happened in the neighbourhood. I mean when I saw Kev doing that, we were outside in the street, someone was banging on a car to make a beat and it was just a great experience. That really made me want to start writing.”
During that 80s / early-90s period before you actually started making records yourself, do you remember seeing anyone performing live in the parks or at block parties who then want on to become a known name in Hip-Hop?
“Man, I saw a lot of people. I remember seeing Mikey D who went on to be in Main Source rhyming in the parks. I saw Biz Markie out in the parks before he actually got on. I remember seeing Redman tear it down in Queens before he went on to be a star. There were a lot of emcees during that time who were really live. I mean, a little later on, I was in a cypher with Big L in Harlem during Harlem Week before he ever came out with a record. There were a lot of emcees from that time who went on from just having the local fame to bigger things.”
Who was down with the Synista Voicez crew that you were associated with when you first came out?
“It was a collective of people like my step-brother, the guy who did the beats Jocko and also Nick Wiz, plus a couple of other people I knew in the tri-state area. We were trying to put something together but then everyone just went in their different directions so it never really happened like that.”
Photo by Olise Forel for Moving Silence
In recent years Nick Wiz has dropped a series of “Cellar Sounds” compilations which have featured a number of tracks you recorded with him during the early-to-mid 90s prior to your debut single “So Real” dropping in 1996. Was the intention back then for you to drop a Nick Wiz-produced project?
“I was really just getting it together at that time. I mean, between Nick Wiz, Mark Sparks and Jocko, they were the producers that I did my first official recordings with. Before that it was about using a four-track, someone would sample a break-beat and we made a song. But when I got with Mark Sparks, Nick Wiz and Jocko, then it became more professional. We would actually go to the studio to make a song. It wasn’t just about freestyling over break-beats anymore. We were using sixteen to twenty-four tracks and I learned about doing layers, overdubs, punch-ins, hooks and how to really make an actual song. I mean, a lot of the songs that are on those Nick Wiz “Cellar Sounds” compilations were recorded when I’d moved to Jersey and first got with them. Those songs were what we considered demos back then. It actually feels a little funny for those songs to be out because those were the songs that we decided not to put out at the time (laughs). But since they have been out, I’ve had people tell me that they like this song or that song from those “Cellar Sounds” compilations and I’m like, ‘Wow! I never even intended for those songs to ever come out.'”
So were you actively shopping those demo tracks to different labels at the time?
“Yeah. I mean, some of those songs were actually the reason I ended-up getting with Rawkus. But prior to that, I was cool with Stretch Armstrong and Bobbito so I would send them those demos and some of them got played on air in New York. So then I’d have people asking me where they could get my records but the songs were never actually put out (laughs). I remember, “On A Mission”, which was recorded as a demo with Nick Wiz in 1996, that was played heavily on Stretch and Bobbito’s show. But it was such a polished demo that it was able to be played alongside actual records and it didn’t sound out of place. So later on, Wiz told me that he wanted to put all of those old joints out on his compilations because people were asking to hear that old stuff and wanted that element of nostalgia. So I was just like, ‘Do what you do.'”
So prior to Rawkus what other labels had you approached for a deal?
“I mean, I was building with a few labels at the time, like Nervous Records and also Capitol. I mean, I ended-up doing a deal with Capitol and was on the second album from the group Us3 which was called “Broadway & 52nd”. That came out in 1996. It was kinda like a poppy, jazz thing and I was really trying to shop them some of my raw Hip-Hop, but the label really just wanted me to do the jazzier stuff with Us3 for that particular album. So I was supposed to do a solo deal with Capitol, but that ended-up not working out because I didn’t want to do what they wanted me to do (laughs). I mean, that side of things was all new to me and it was a shock to see how certain things worked within the music industry. Some of the business end of things definitely flew over my head. But at the same time, I was just happy to be in the mix. Then what happened was, because things hadn’t panned out with the labels I’d been speaking to, that’s when we ended-up putting out the “So Real” / “It Could Happen” single independently in 96 which then ended-up getting picked-up by Priority’s Freeze Records and given wider distribution.”
So that single must have been getting a nice buzz in New York for it to have been picked up by Priority / Freeze?
“Right. I mean, you had Stretch Armstrong who was playing “It Could Happen” heavily on his radio show, which was the more underground side, then you had Red Alert who was playing “So Real” heavily on his Hot 97 drive-time show. So the single was definitely getting some heavy buzz in New York and it was on the strength of that record that led to me dealing with Rawkus.”
At the time you put out “So Real” in 1996 the independent scene in New York was really starting to gain momentum. Was there a real awareness amongst underground artists in the city that they were contributing to a scene that was building towards something or was it something that grew organically before people had even fully comprehended what was happening?
“It grew into a scene out of necessity. People wanted to put their stuff out and the type of music that was being made just wasn’t resonating with the major labels at the time. So it was a case of artists trying to see what they could do on their own. I mean, even Jay-Z was doing the same thing at the time. He was shopping his music to labels around that same time, 94 /95, and they weren’t picking it up so he wound up putting a single out himself and then he got distribution through Priority for his “Reasonable Doubt” album. But it was a different climate then for sales and you could put a vinyl single out and it would sell and that’s what you built your buzz from. I mean, we probably pressed up about three thousand copies of the “So Real” single when we put that out independently.”
I remember picking that single up from Mr Bongo in London when it dropped…
“Oh yeah, I know about Mr Bongo. I remember when I was in London back in the 90s, I’d stay in Dark-N-Cold and would be freestyling in there with people like DJ MK passing through. Then you had Shortee Blitz who was at another store up the road from there…
“Yeah, yeah, Deal Real. I’d be in the basement there with Shortee Blitz and Destiny just rhyming. Shout-out to my man Supa T…
“Yeah (laughs). I’d be down in that Deal Real basement with Supa T freestyling. Those were good times, man.”
Were you already familiar with a lot of the NY artists who started putting independent records out during that mid-90s period?
“Oh yeah. I mean, all those people like Mos Def, Pumpkinhead, Jean Grae, Talib Kweli, we used to be at all the different events in the city. We all used to be in Washington Square Park freestyling. Everybody used to be there. Everything kinda happened simultaneously because we had events like Lyricist Lounge which was the springboard for a lot of New York artists who then went on to make records. I mean, the first time I ever saw Biggie live was actually at Lyricist Lounge and also Foxy Brown. A lot of people really got some of their first exposure at Lyricist Lounge and then took their music in their own direction depending on who they got put on by. The scene was definitely bubbling at that time and a lot of the people that I’d seen around before that point did wind-up making it onto records, whether that was on a lower, underground level or a higher level, depending on the route that they took.”
By the time both Biggie and Jay-Z had put out their second albums in 1997, as a fan of Hip-Hop, it really felt like a line had been drawn between the underground Hip-Hop world and the commercially successful artists. Some fans were really holding Biggie and Jay-Z up as examples of the music that was hurting Hip-Hop, but then when you’d speak to a lot of underground NY artists, they were actually fans of both of them. What were your thoughts on that at the time?
“I mean, Biggie and Jay-Z were both lyricists. They took their route with the music and it led to them blowing-up. I mean, we all started on the same playing field. I used to see Biggie freestyling on Fulton Street when he was working on his music. But he got with Puff and Puff wanted to try different things with the music and the imagery which led to Big blowing-up. But he was still a lyricist. Same thing with Jay-Z. Then you had other artists who were maybe a little more stubborn who didn’t want to go that same route, so record labels felt that perhaps they couldn’t blow them up in the same way, so they were left to go their own route. But I definitely wasn’t mad at either Biggie or Jay-Z for blowing-up the way they did. It was just the way things went.”
So your attitude back then was that just because you were an underground independent artist, that didn’t mean that you couldn’t also enjoy the music that you were hearing on the radio that was being labelled as commercial?
“Exactly. It was all Hip-Hop. I mean, I was listening to Mase records and Company Flow records back then. Now, when I look back on it, a Mase record from back then is a thousand times better than what’s being played on commercial radio right now.”
Considering how many cyphers you must have seen and been a part of back then, are there any particular names that stand-out to you today when you think about emcees battling in the 90s?
“Yeah. I mean, seeing Big L battle live during Harlem Week, that was definitely a highlight from that time for me. I remember it was a cypher and everybody was taking their turn jumping in, then Big L came along and just shut the s**t down (laughs). After he rhymed, nobody wanted to rhyme anymore. He just dispersed the crowd (laughs). But I remember seeing Mase in those same cyphers during Harlem Week as well when he was with Children Of The Corn and he was raw. Herb McGruff was another one who would shut cyphers down in the street. Someone else who stands out to me from that time is Thirstin Howl. I mean, I saw Thirstin battle everybody (laughs). C-Rayz Walz is another one who I saw battle everybody. Another crazy thing I remember from when I was first coming out is when I was one of the headliners on the bill at a club in NYC and Immortal Technique was in there battling. This was before he even got big on the underground, but he was definitely someone who could battle anybody. He was in there that night slaughtering people. Mos Def was someone as well who I remember seeing crush people in battles when we’d be out in Washington Square Park.”
So how did you officially get signed to Rawkus?
“Initially, I came to them with “So Real”, but they felt it was a little too commercial because we had the Patrice Rushen sample in there and some singing on the hook. But the b-side, “It Could Happen”, that was more the style Rawkus were looking for. That particular track was getting a lot of play on the underground radio shows in New York, so that’s what made Rawkus decide to do a record with me and we dropped the “Side 2 Side” / “Arabian Nights” single in 1997. So now, “Side 2 Side” was still a little more radio-friendly and “Arabian Nights” was the underground record. That was my style at the time, to make songs that might appeal to slightly different audiences, and the same thing happened again with “Side 2 Side” getting some commercial airplay and deejays like Stretch Armstrong would play “Arabian Nights”. “Arabian Nights” has become the joint that everyone will tell me is my classic. So I always have to perform that track. That record was perfect for the underground and the concept just really seemed to catch the people’s imagination.”
Considering you’d already built relationships with artists like Mos Def and Talib Kweli from crossing paths in the NY scene, how did it feel to then be signed to the same label and technically be in competition with each other?
“There was definitely competition but at the same time the fact that we were all on the same label made it feel like we were all one big crew even though we weren’t. I mean, everybody was trying to do their own thing and blow-up in their own way, but we all realised that we were kinda in it together because the music that we were putting out wasn’t commercial music so we were all going to be facing the same struggles. I mean, it definitely felt different to go from rhyming in the park with people for us all to then be making records. It felt like things were moving to another level. But to be honest, I don’t think I was really fully aware of what was going on at that time. I mean, I wasn’t aware of how many records were being sold. I wasn’t aware of publishing. I wasn’t aware of a lot of things that I should have been aware of. I was really still in the ‘rhyming-in-the-park’ phase and it only really started to resonate with me what we’d achieved when the album deal with Rawkus came about and also the deal with Nervous for the Polyrhythm Addicts project. It was at that time that I knew things were really getting serious.”
One of your other Rawkus-released tracks that made an impact was 1998’s DJ Spinna-produced “5 Star Generals” posse cut with A.L., Eminem, Kwest Tha Madd Lad and Skam2. Was that track recorded with everyone in the studio at the same time and, if so, what do you remember from that particular session?
“That track was definitely recorded with everyone in the studio at the same time. I actually have a picture from that session which I need to get back from Mr. Complex (laughs). We recorded “5 Star Generals” at DJ Spinna’s studio in his basement in Brooklyn. Eminem and everybody was there, A.L., Kwest Tha Madd Lad. I remember I was the first person to arrive and I laid my verse first and then everybody else laid there’s down in the order that they’d arrived. I remember when I heard Eminem lay his verse and I was just like ‘Wooooow!’ I actually wanted to change my s**t after I heard that but Spinna was like, ‘Nah, man, it’s good. Leave it.'”
How familiar were you with Eminem at that point?
“I mean, I’d met him previously at some shows. I actually posted the ticket up online of the show we had together at Wetlands. It was hosted by Smif-N-Wessun and it was me, Eminem, The Outsidaz and a couple of other people. I remember someone had performed before me and had gotten booed by the crowd so Smif-N-Wessun were like, ‘The next person who comes up here had better be good.’ I went up there, killed it and got a lot of love from the crowd and at that point I was still relatively unknown. Then the same thing happened with Eminem, he wasn’t really known at the time, he was the white kid down with the Outsidaz, people didn’t really know what to make of him, but he got onstage that night and bodied it. I’d also met him another time at one of the first internet radio stations, which was 88HipHop.Com. Plus, a couple of my friends like Thirstin Howl and A.L., dudes who’d been at the Rap Olympics, they kept telling me, ‘Yo, you need to get this Eminem kid on a song. He’s gonna blow-up, I’m telling you.’ So we invited him down to the studio and he dropped that verse for “5 Star Generals”. The crazy thing is, it was whilst doing the paperwork for that track that Eminem ended-up meeting Paul Rosenberg through my lawyer at the time.”
The album you were recording for Rawkus was never released and you ended-up leaving the label. Where did the Rawkus situation start to go wrong as far as you were concerned?
“I mean, we all were young and we all made mistakes. At the time I placed all the blame on Rawkus. I mean, the guys who were running Rawkus, Brian and Jarret, they were like twenty-four-years-old. We were all around the same age. They were learning the business at the same time as I was learning about the business. The problem was that they also had major investors in the company, like the son of Rupert Murdoch. So what they captured in the beginning with what the label stood for, I think they let that slip through their fingers by trying to be like the major labels they were supposed to be providing an alternative to. They started wasting money and really deviating away from what made the label a success in the first place. I mean, they got gold albums out of Mos Def’s “Black On Both Sides” and Big L’s “The Big Picture” so they became focused on replicating that and kind of sat everyone else on the label down, including Company Flow, which led to El-P going and doing his own thing with Def Jux.”
Do you think the success of the label took everyone by surprise, from the artists to the people who were running Rawkus?
“It surprised the s**t out of everybody, including the dudes who ran the label. I don’t think they really knew exactly what to do with it and it went crazy. I mean, Pharoahe Monch for instance, I don’t think they thought “Simon Says” was going to blow-up as big as it did, so they never cleared that “Godzilla” sample. Then when the single blew-up they were scrambling to clear the sample and by then it was too late. So there were mistakes that were being made. I mean, me and Pharoahe had the same management at the time, and I think that whole malaise behind that single and album kinda pushed my s**t under the radar. I mean, with Pharoahe and I having the same management, if he’s beefing with the label and they’re dealing with his management, that’s also the same management they’re dealing with when it comes to my music. So I was running around in the streets and I decided I wanted a release from the label. I told them that if they weren’t going to put my album out within a certain amount of time then they should let me go so I could run with the music. Rawkus gave me a release but they didn’t let me take any of the music I’d made with them because they knew I could have taken that and blown-up somewhere else. I had like five songs on that Rawkus album from Just Blaze and at that time his only real production credits were on the Harlem World album “The Movement” from Mase’s crew. He was still interning at The Cutting Room studio back then.”
So the Polyrhythm Addicts project “Rhyme Related” that came out via Wreck / Nervous in 1999 was almost like a release for you to be able to put music out without having to deal with Rawkus…
“Exactly. That was the perfect avenue for me to still be able to get music out there and continue what I was trying to accomplish. I was actually going to do a solo deal with Nervous, but the way the paperwork was looking, I was scared to be caught up with them. That was also around the time Nervous were going through s**t with Black Moon and Smif-N-Wessun, so I didn’t want to do a deal with them when I could see they were already beefing with their own artists.”
It definitely seemed that some of the labels that had established themselves during that independent era started to reflect the politics of the bigger corporate labels as time went on…
“Man, when money started getting involved and that money started getting big, s**t changed. I mean, if a lot of the labels at that time had just kept it official with their artists then the relationships would have remained strong and everybody really just wanted to work and succeed. But money definitely played a large part in things going wrong between a lot of labels and artists that came out of that underground scene.”
When you think back to that time, are there any artists who fell away from the music scene for whatever reason who you felt could have really left their mark on the game?
“Yeah, yeah. I felt that Kwest Tha Madd Lad could have taken it to the next level. I always felt that his rhymes were funny and witty and that he always made good songs. L-Fudge was someone else who I felt could have taken it to the next level. I mean, there were so many talented artists at that time who I thought had what it took.”
I always thought A.L. was nice with his rhymes…
“A.L. too. Everybody I had on that “5 Star Generals” record I thought had the potential to blow-up. Skam2 was crazy with the rhymes and concepts. I could go on for days about artists from that time who should have blown-up (laughs). But I think a lot of people from that era became discouraged and in some cases lost the love for it or decided that they needed to take another route outside of music because they had families to feed and other responsibilities. I mean, I do other things today aside from just music, but I really can’t let Hip-Hop go because I feel that I’ve devoted a large part of my life to this and whether I blow big or not I’m going to be making this music until I’m gone because this is just what I enjoy to do. I mean, if you put your heart and soul into your music then it’ll always connect with someone out there. I remember when I came home from jail in 2005, I thought the music thing was over for me because I was basically starting from scratch. A lot of people I’d come up with had blown-up while I’d been away and I felt like I’d missed my time and opportunity. I mean, my actual official debut album “Never Say Never” which came out on Raptivism in 2001, I went to jail right before it came out. So I never got to tour with it, I never got to do any videos, I never got to really do any promotion. Since I’ve been home I’ve dropped various projects but I’ve done everything myself, so they haven’t reached as many people as they could have because I didn’t necessarily have the money to put into them. But my new album, “Keepers Of The Lost Art”, that’s basically everything coming around full circle.”
How did you approach making this new album as there definitely seems to be a concept behind it given the title?
“This album, I’ve basically been recording piece by piece for the last couple of years. Certain songs I made I put aside because I thought they would fit with this new project. I could have put them out on other projects but I wanted to save them for the official album, like all of the tracks I recorded with Lewis Parker. My whole approach to “Keepers Of The Lost Art” was that I wanted it to have that boom-bap feel and that classic 90s sound, but I also wanted to use some new producers and mix it all together in a pot. There are so many new artists today who’re trying to duplicate that 90s sound, but I’m from the 90s so I’m not duplicating anything, this is just what I do.”
You mentioned the UK’s Lewis Parker who is responsible for producing a large portion of “Keepers Of The Lost Art”. What drew you to his particular style and sound?
“Lewis produced about half of the album. I mean, I knew of Lewis Parker from when I used to be out in London in the 90s and we’d crossed paths back then. But a friend of mine actually took me out to his house in Queens a few years back when he was living in New York. Lewis started playing some of his beats and I was just like, ‘Yeaaaah!’ That was the sound that I wanted. Lewis has that golden-era sound with those sharp SP drums and it has that warm, analog sound with the ill samples. It was exactly what I was looking for.”
Lewis has been putting in work for about twenty years now and is definitely a master of his craft. If he’d have been born and raised in New York he’d have probably been right there alongside the likes of Pete Rock and Large Professor back in the 90s contributing to some classic East Coast albums….
“Ah man, definitely. He would have been up there with all of them. But I feel that the s**t he got now is enough for him to be mentioned alongside those names today.”
You definitely sound very confident about the music you’ve put together on “Keepers Of The Lost Art”…
“I feel like this album is the greatest work I’ve ever put together. I don’t know how other people are going to feel about it, but I feel that’s it’s my greatest work and I definitely think the planets are aligning for it. I mean, they played one of my tracks on Shade 45 with Sway as part of their “A&R Room” segment and it beat out Jay Electronica and Jay-Z’s “We Made It” track. I saw that and was like, ‘Word?!‘ I mean, I’m a Jay Electronica fan, but to beat him and Jay-Z on something like that was a big deal to me. So I feel that certain things are aligning and hopefully people will take notice when the album drops.”
What are your thoughts on the current New York underground scene?
“I think it’s healthy, man. I do a monthly show out here in New York which is called “It’s Alive!” for obvious reasons because people keep saying that Hip-Hop is dead and it’s not. But we have a good mix of classic vets that come through like Tragedy Khadafi and Blaq Poet and they’re mingling with the new artists and different collaborations are coming out of those meetings. I just think the underground scene in New York is beautiful right now.”
Obviously it’s very different to the scene you came up in considering the technology and online social media outlets that are available to artists today…
“Yeah, it’s definitely a different ball game. I mean, now, you can reach other parts of the world within seconds. Back when I was first coming out, I didn’t know that I had people in places like England listening to my s**t until I actually went over there. Now, talented artists like Spit Gemz and Nutso can gauge who’s checking for their stuff using social media and by being online which means they can really promote themselves to the right people across the world. But at the same time it’s a gift and a curse, because those talented artists are having to deal with the game being saturated. People can just put some microwave s**t up on the computer and straight away they think they’re an artist. But what separates people is the quality of your work, how you put it out, who you’re working with and then the final frontier is the stage. I mean, you can put out whatever you want to on the computer, but when people see you live, that’s what’s gonna separate the true artists from everyone else. As an independent artist, your live show is one of the most important parts of what you do, because that’s your opportunity to convince people who might not already know you that they should be buying your s**t. Nowadays, with everything being so instant, you can kill it onstage, then people go home, Google your name, find all your music, your videos, and that’s what helps you build a fanbase.”
So after almost twenty years in the game, what lessons have your learned along the way that you still apply to to career today?
“So many, so many, soooo many. From the business side of things with contracts, to registering songs for publishing, to really owning your brand. But mainly, I just learnt to put out what you’re feeling from the heart and that’s still something that I do today. You shouldn’t worry about other opinions and let that cloud your vision. If you let that happen then you’re not really being a true artist and making the music that you believe in, you’re just trying to gauge what everyone else likes and then trying to fit in with that. That’s not being creative as far as I’m concerned and it takes away from the artistry. An artist should make the music that they like and then hope that people catch up to what you’re doing. That’s what being creative is about to me. So with this new “Keepers Of The Lost Art” album, I just want to play my part in keeping the art of Hip-Hop alive according to what I feel is captured in the four elements of the culture.”
Follow Shabaam Sahdeeq on Twitter – @ShabaamSahdeeq
Preview “Keepers Of The Lost Art” on Below System Records here.
Shabaam Sahdeeq – “Tranquilo” (Below System Records / 2014)
New music from the Group Home member produced by the UK’s very own SP king Lewis Parker.
With 2013 reaching its inevitable end, it’s about that time to take a look back over the last twelve months and give some well-deserved props to those artists who ensured we all had some quality music to listen to throughout the last year.
Whilst many continue to argue that Hip-Hop doesn’t have anything left to offer fans creatively, 2013 once again proved there are emcees, producers and deejays all over Planet Rock who are still crafting beats and rhymes with both passion and integrity as their main motivation.
As always, the releases listed in this year’s round-up don’t represent the only albums and EPs that were worth checking out, but they are the projects that spent the most time blasting from my headphones and speakers.
So, once again it’s on…
Spit Gemz – “End The TV” (SpitGemz.BandCamp.Com) – Emerging from the galaxy of Queens with a razor-sharp delivery and a good ear for rugged beats, NYC’s Spit Gemz continued to carve out his own niche in the rap world with this latest full-length project. Backed by production from One-Take, Don Producci and Stu Bangas, the Outdoorsmen affiliate wove intricate verses throughout this album that encompassed everything from street knowledge and conspiracy theories to religious beliefs and old-school nostalgia. With the likes of Timeless Truth, Shabaam Sahdeeq and Ill Bill also sharing mic duties, “End The TV” stood as one of the year’s most potent doses of true-school Rotten Apple rap
Efeks – “Contemporary Classic” (Revorg Record) – Having spent the last decade as the lyrical half of respected UK duo Prose, talented wordsmith Efeks stepped out of his creative comfort zone on his first official solo album with memorable results. Digging deep into his life experiences to give listeners a further insight into his personal world, the South London emcee utilised soulful, boom-bap-driven soundscapes from Jack Diggs, Keith Lawrence and Steady Rock to drop gems on a number of topics including fatherhood, technology and the struggles of an underground artist.
Roc Marciano – “Marci Beaucoup” (Man Bites Dog Records) – Living proof of the old adage that sometimes less is more, Strong Island’s Roc has turned crafting lo-fi beats and brilliantly understated rhymes into an artform. If last year’s “Reloaded” took a sidestep around the heavy drums of its predecessor “Marcberg”, “Marci…” stripped the production down even further, with the UN emcee and allies such as Ka, Knowledge The Pirate and AG rhyming over minimalist, pimped-out loops that hung in the air like fresh blunt smoke. The result was a unique, atmospheric album that sounded like the Hip-Hop soundtrack to a never-before-seen 70s blaxploitation flick.
Kid Tsu – “The Chase” (Headbop Music) – Teaming-up with NYC’s Headbop team, Australian-based producer Kid Tsunami was finally able to release his long-awaited compilation project in 2013 featuring an impressive list of golden-era greats such as OC, Percee P and Kool G. Rap. Clearly determined not to be outshone by his own guests, Tsunami ensured his production remained consistently dope throughout, balancing melodic samples and classic breaks with a natural, organic energy that kept everything cohesive.
Lewis Parker – “The Puzzle Episode Two: The Glass Ceiling” (King Underground Records) – The veteran UK producer-on-the-mic returned with another sonic Hip-Hop espionage thriller of epic proportions packed with flawless, dusty-fingered production, cinematic concepts and appearances from the likes of $amhill, Mista Spyce and John Robinson. Masterfully executed, “The Glass Ceiling” further cemented Parker’s reputation as one of the nicest producers in the game.
Gore Elohim – “Electric Lucifer” (Supercoven Records) – The former Non-Phixion member proved that he definitely hadn’t mellowed with age on this gritty follow-up to 2004’s cult favourite “The Art Of Dying”. Sounding like it had been recorded in a secret underground bunker somewhere in Brooklyn, “Electric Lucifer” found Goretex immersing himself in a shadowy world of government corruption, alien abductions and Illuminati conspiracies. As the man himself said, it’s that sinister s**t.
Boldy James – “My 1st Chemistry Set” (Decon Records) – Detroit’s James has been bubbling on the underground for a few years now, with 3rd Bass’s MC Serch being one of many early supporter of Boldy’s brand of raw, unapologetic street-hop during his time on Motor City airwaves. But whilst the low-key rapper’s previous material was definitely noteworthy, pairing James with the brooding, hypnotic production of Alchemist for this album was a match made in a dark, D-Town back-alley.
CZARFACE (7L & Esoteric / Inspectah Deck) – “CZARFACE” (Brick Records) – With its brilliant Marvel-inspired cover art and WWF vocal samples, this full-length collabo from Boston’s 7L & Esoteric and the Wu’s Rebel INS tapped straight into the memory banks of anyone who grew-up as a kid in the 80s discovering Hip-Hop, collecting comics and watching Saturday morning wrestling. The fact that the beats and rhymes contained here were equally as dope as the album’s artwork was almost just a bonus.
Supastition – “The Blackboard EP” (Reform School Music) – Returning off a self-imposed hiatus from the music business that began in 2010, North Carolina’s Supastition gave fans everything they were hoping for and more on this hard-hitting release. Getting back to making music purely on his own terms, “The Blackboard EP” bristled with passion and energy as Supa demolished beats from the likes of Marco Polo and M-Phazes whilst exorcising personal demons, re-evaluating his place in the game and re-igniting his love for making quality Hip-Hop. Welcome back!
Klaus Layer – “The Adventures Of Captain Crook” (Redefinition Records) – German-based producer Klaus Layer definitely did a thorough job of showcasing his seemingly effortless mastery of the MPC on this largely instrumental release. Bursting with full-bodied beats drenched in echoing horns and soulful samples, “The Adventures Of…” took the listener on a sonic voyage that was as therapeutic and relaxing as it was entertaining.
Check Part Two here.
Lewis Parker – “Summer With Asakala” (KingUnderground.Com / 2013)
The UK producer-on-the-mic digs in the crates for some sublime strings to accompany his relationship-inspired rhymes from the album “The Puzzle: Episode 2 – The Glass Ceiling”.