Starvin B – “Living On Edge” (@Starvin_B / 2017)
Taken from the talented Queens, NY emcee’s new One-Take produced album “Digital Jungle”.
Starvin B – “Living On Edge” (@Starvin_B / 2017)
Taken from the talented Queens, NY emcee’s new One-Take produced album “Digital Jungle”.
Starvin B / One-Take – “Ironworkers” (@Starvin_B / 2017)
Raw lyrical wit from the Queens, NY emcee’s One-Take-produced project “Digital Jungle”.
Broken Home – “Home Run Derby” (@BrokenHomeMusic / 2016)
One-Take-produced head-nodder from NY representatives Spit Gemz, Aye Wun and Eff Yoo.
It can’t be denied that 2014 was a great year for quality Hip-Hop. When I initially sat down to start putting together Old To The New’s annual 52 Best Albums & EPs list, it soon became clear that staying with that format would mean having to leave out a large amount of releases that I’ve had in heavy rotation over the last twelve months.
Another reason for wanting to highlight just how many worthwhile albums and EPs dropped in 2014 was to prove a point to those who still insist there just isn’t a notable amount of good music being released today. There are still plenty of talented emcees, deejays and producers across the globe who’re busy in their respective labs, meticulously crafting beats and rhymes in the hope that those of us who say we’re looking for high-standard Hip-Hop will take the time to listen.
As always, by no means am I presenting this as the definitive list of 2014 releases. In today’s internet-era, it’s impossible for anyone to say they’ve heard everything that’s worth listening to. No matter how much time you spend online listening to music, there will always be a dope project out there from someone, somewhere on Planet Rock that you won’t yet have heard of. The search is never-ending.
So, with all that being said, here are the albums and EPs that kept my head nodding throughout 2014…
TPS Fam – “Hot Water Music” (Revorg Records) – Finding creative inspiration in the mundane aspects of the daily grind, Jack Diggs, Big Toast and Strange Neighbour crafted a brilliant, sample-driven soundtrack for the working-class Hip-Hop fan. Balancing dreams and aspirations with day-jobs and overdue bills, the UK trio delivered down-to-earth rhymes with passion and sincerity, encouraging us all to make every day count whilst promoting their motto of “living like kings on a tight budget.”
Starvin B – “Blood From A Stone” (Goblin Music) – The first of two projects released by the talented Queens, NY resident in 2014, the One-Take-produced “Blood From A Stone” showcased the Rotten Apple rhymer as being a true student of the lyrical arts. Packing his vivid verses with gritty imagery, raw humour and witty wordplay, Starvin B let his personality shine throughout this project, with the likes of Spit Gemz, Tragedy Khadafi and Foul Monday on-hand to fill some well-placed guest spots.
Ray West & OC – “Ray’s Cafe” (RedApples45) – Proving that true talent really is timeless, two decades after the release of his classic debut album “Word…Life”, Diggin’ In The Crates legend OC teamed-up with Bronx producer Ray West to serve hungry Hip-Hop customers with this appetising platter of flawless lyricism and warm, soulful production. What’s next on the menu?
Stu Bangas & Blacastan – “Watson & Holmes” (Brutal Music) – Joining forces with producer Stu Bangas, Connecticut emcee Blacastan retained his reputation as one of the rap game’s most consistent artists with the release of this abrasive, hard-hitting album. Backed by Stu’s cinematic, drama-laced beats, the AOTP member delivered his usual high standard of raw rhyming, with brothers-in-arms Esoteric, Vinnie Paz and Apathy each taking a turn to help crush the competition.
String Theory – “String Theory” (Mic Theory Records) – Breaking the periodic table of poetry down to its very last compound, Florida’s Hex One (of the duo Epidemic) and Swiss producer B.B.Z. Darney came together to “swallow planets and freeze suns”, combining inter-dimensional mic techniques with rocket-fuelled boom-bap beats as they pondered both the laws of the universe and the art of rap.
DJ JS-1 – “It Is What It Isn’t” (Ground Original) – Veteran NY turntablist and long-standing Rock Steady Crew member JS-1 enlisted the help of a lengthy list of talented lyricists for his fourth collection of underground science. From golden-era icons such as Sadat X, KRS-One and X-Clan’s Brother J, to more recently established wordsmiths like Spit Gemz, Fashawn and Rasheed Chappell, “It Is What It Isn’t” effectively bridged the gap between the old and the new with impressive results.
Union Blak – “Union Blak Friday” (Effiscienz) – US-born emcee Kimba and UK beatsmith Sir Williams joined forces with France’s Effiscienz label to deliver a solid, succinct debut album. Demonstrating their shared passion for Hip-Hop with positive, upbeat rhymes and melodic production, the duo made it clear throughout “Union Blak Friday” that their aim is to add on to the culture rather than simply take from it.
J-Live – “Around The Sun” (Mortier Music) – There may not be anything new under the sun, but there’s still plenty of quality music to be found. Case in point, veteran NY-raised, ATL-based emcee J-Live’s seventh album release, which found the accomplished wordsmith delivering the clever, intelligent lyricism fans have come to rely on him for over production from Oddisee, Audible Doctor and DJ Spinna.
Souls Of Mischief / Adrian Younge – “There Is Only Now” (Linear Labs) – A concept album set in 1994 involving jealous emcees, kidnapping and revenge, “There Is Only Now” found the Souls Of Mischief members weaving intricate, story-telling rhymes around the live, drum-heavy musicianship of the talented Adrian Younge, resulting in an epic Hip-Hop tale which contained more drama than an episode of “The Wire”.
Es – “Aspire To Inspire” (Essenchill Records) – Inviting everyone along on his quest for self-improvement, Canadian emcee Es’s second full-length project lived up to its lofty title in no uncertain terms. Packed with full-bodied production and uplifting rhymes about everything from fatherhood and relationships to self-worth and striving to maintain a positive mental attitude, it was near impossible to play this album and not feel better about life whilst listening.
Skyzoo & Torae – “Barrel Brothers” (First Generation Rich / Internal Affairs) – Self-confessed “products of Albee Square Mall” and Brooklyn-based brothers-from-other-mothers, Skyzoo and Torae came together to create one of the best examples of pure emceeing you were likely to hear in 2014. With bold deliveries and painstakingly well-crafted verses, the two BK lyricists sparred with each other over heavyweight production from the likes of Illmind and DJ Premier, each proving why their place among NY’s long line of noteworthy mic controllers is well-deserved. No frills, just skills.
Figub Brazlevic – “Train Yards” (FigubBrazlevic.BandCamp.Com) – Having already demonstrated his undeniable production skills via his work with the Man Of Booom crew, this instrumental EP release from Berlin’s Brazlevic blended head-nodding beats with jazzy samples and well-placed vocal snippets, creating a spell-binding project with plenty of musical depth and soul.
Confidence Presents… – “Confidence Presents GDot & Born Featuring Edo.G” (Audible Con Records) – Building on his already strong reputation as one of today’s most consistent producers, the talented Confidence orchestrated this true-school gem of an album which bridged the gap between the Boston Hip-Hop scene’s past and present. Relative newcomers GDot & Born shared mic time with Beantown vet Edo.G throughout this project, with all three emcees delivering positive messages mixed with b-boy bravado over Confidence’s quality brand of crisp, boom-bap beats.
Parallax – “Depth Perception” (ParallaxOfficialStore.BandCamp.Com) – The upcoming UK artist proved he’s as nice behind the boards as he is behind the microphone with the release of this succinct, largely self-produced EP. Utilising solid drums and dusty samples, Parallax waxed lyrical about a number of topics, dropping punchline-heavy food-for-thought on the state of Hip-Hop, media manipulation and the British justice system. Mental stamina, indeed.
Prince Po & Oh No – “Animal Serum” (Wandering Worx / Green Streets Entertainment) – Staying true to his claim of “having a lotta jewels, but don’t gotta wear a chain”, Organized Konfusion’s Prince Po administered a new brand of musical medicine to the Hip-Hop faithful with the welcome assistance of West Coast producer Oh No. Tackling a number of modern-day issues with typically dense, multi-layered lyricism, Po succeeded in soothing the suffering of all free-thinkers who find themselves trapped inside the Matrix.
Early Reed & J Scienide – “The Dose (The MFN Files)” (J-Scienide.BandCamp.Com) – Whilst putting the finishing touches to his own impressive 2014 releases, Low Budget’s Kev Brown found time to get behind this EP from his two fellow Washington D.C.-based crew members. With Reed demonstrating his mastery of the SP and Scienide proving himself to be a formidable talent on the mic, “The Dose (The MFN Files)” gave listeners a potent shot of pure Hip-Hop.
Freddie Gibbs & Madlib – “Pinata” (Madlib Invazion) – Arguably the greatest mix of raw gangsta rhymes and dope breaks since Brad Jordan joined forces with the Rap-A-Lot production squad for his 1991 debut solo album, Gary, Indiana native Gibbs’ drawling delivery sounded right at home over Madlib’s range of random sample material, resulting in an album that covered a variety of moods, from the soothing and laidback to the dramatic and urgent. Witness the strength of street knowledge.
Akrobatik – “Built To Last” (Playaktion Recordings) – Returning to the rap game after surviving emergency heart surgery in 2011, the title of Boston veteran Akrobatik’s third full-length solo album was as much a statement about enduring personal struggle as it was a comment on his forthright approach to his craft. Balancing content which covered his near-death experience, social commentary and Hip-Hop politics, Ak firmly stood up for his personal principles at a time when so many other artists are busy chasing trends and trying desperately to please the masses.
Divine – “Ghetto Rhymin'” (Supreme Records) – Mixing Five Percent terminology with the influence of Rakim and a proud New York state of mind, Brooklyn’s Divine proved himself to be a true product of his environment on his latest project, taking it back to a time when Rotten Apple wordsmiths were more concerned with capturing the essence of the five boroughs in their music rather than allowing their sound to be shaped by outside forces.
Ghostface Killah – “36 Seasons” (Tommy Boy Entertainment) – Fresh from 2013’s “Twelve Reasons To Die” collabo with Adrian Younge, the Wally Champ dove straight into another concept-based project with “36 Seasons”. Based around a story-line that was part 70s blaxploitation flick, part Marvel comic book territory, Ghost was joined by Brooklyn’s AZ and the legendary K00l G. Rap, weaving action-packed tales of love, drama and betrayal over the classic vintage soul thump of NY band The Revelations.
Part Two coming soon.
Starvin B – “Universal Language” (@Starvin_B / 2014)
The Queens, NY emcee zones out on this hypnotic head-nodder from his One-Take-produced album “Blood From A Stone”.
Starvin B – “Lobsters” (@Starvin_B / 2014)
The Queens, NY emcee gets busy in the kitchen for this latest clip from his dope One-Take-produced album “Blood From A Stone”.
Peep my interview with Starvin B from earlier this year here.
Starvin B ft. Spit Gemz & Tragedy Khadafi – “Rap College” (@StarvinB / 2014)
Rugged Rotten Apple collabo from the Queens, NY emcee’s brilliant One-Take-produced album “Blood From A Stone”.
Queens, NY’s Starvin B drops an ill freestyle on DJ Eclipse’s Halftime Radio Show to promote his new One-Take-produced album “Blood From A Stone” – check the clip below and then read my recent interview with the Rotten Apple lyricist here.
Queens, New York. From Run-DMC, LL Cool and Kool G. Rap, to Nas, Mobb Deep and Large Professor, not forgetting other rap giants such as A Tribe Called Quest, Organized Konfusion and Tragedy Khadafi, the Rotten Apple borough has a strong Hip-Hop lineage which has left an indelible mark on the art-form over the years.
Whilst KRS-One may have once dropped the infamous line “Queens keeps on fakin’ it…” on his 1987 classic “The Bridge Is Over” during the BDP / Juice Crew rivalry, history has proven over and over again that definitely isn’t the case.
In recent years, a new generation of Queens emcees have put themselves on the map, each with their own style and musical identity, but all sharing a passion for lyricism and a desire to remain true to the foundations of the culture which spawned them.
The likes of Meyhem Lauren, Spit Gemz and Timeless Truth have delivered some of the best Hip-Hop present-day NYC has had to offer, with all being worthy of adding on to the QU legacy, holding their microphones in one hand and the future of their home borough’s continued place in rap’s history books in the other.
Another artist more than capable of ensuring the Hip-Hop credibility of Queens remains intact is Starvin B. A naturally gifted emcee, the Indonesian / Irish lyricist has already built himself an impressive catalogue, including 2010’s “Uplifted”, 2012’s “Something In The Water” and his most recent album “Blood From A Stone” produced entirely by frequent collaborator One-Take.
Mixing sharp wit and street smarts with battle-ready punchlines and a vicious sense of humour, Starvin is the type of artist that you feel you’ve really gotten to know after listening to his music. Honest, creative and authentic, the native New Yorker’s brand of Hip-Hop wears its golden-era influences with pride whilst avoiding simply retreading old musical ground.
Speaking live and direct from the Galaxy of Queens for this interview, Starvin B discusses growing-up in NYC, working with childhood rap heroes and the creative process behind his “Blood From A Stone” album.
Do you remember when you were first introduced to Hip-Hop?
“It was as a kid, y’know. My mom actually put me on to Hip-Hop. My mom was a Public Enemy fan and she would show me the tapes. It was the beats that caught me at first. But Hip-Hop just really stood out to me as something that could give you a voice and allow you to speak out and say what you thought about the world and what was happening around you. So, I really have to give credit to my mom for introducing me to Hip-Hop. I mean, I’d heard Run-DMC before when I was a real little kid, but I didn’t really understand the music at that point. But what really got me interested was mom with her Public Enemy tape of the “Apocalypse 91…” album and I’d also probably have to say LL Cool J’s “Mama Said Knock You Out” album as well.”
How old would you have been around that time?
“Man, I’d have been about seven or eight-years-old. But like I said, before that I remember hearing Run-DMC and some other stuff that had come out, but I was young and I didn’t really know what I was listening to. But around those times when moms was listening to her Public Enemy tape, that’s when things started to get real crazy (laughs).”
What was it about that particular Public Enemy album that really drew you in?
“It was the “Can’t Truss It” beat. That beat was just something that I’d jump around and go crazy to as a kid (laughs). So it was that and also the fact that they were talking about social issues. I mean, I didn’t know anything about the injustices that they were talking about, but I just knew that something was wrong with the way the world was. Something was a little off. My mom coached me along with it as well and would talk to me about some of the things that Public Enemy were talking about on their records. So it was cool.”
You grew-up in Queens, right?
“Yeah, yeah. I grew-up in Woodside, Queens, Sunnyside, Queens, the Long Island City area…”
So were you aware at that young age that Hip-Hop was all around the neighbourhoods you were living in?
“Absolutely. I mean, I remember going to the store as a young kid and seeing people break-dancing on cardboard out in the street, people on the corner freestyling and stuff like that. So Hip-Hop was definitely something that was all around me at a young age. To me, back then, it just seemed like Hip-Hop was the main outlet that everyone seemed to be migrating towards. I mean, I remember thinking as a kid that there were a lot of cool things about Hip-Hop, but that there were also some weird things about Hip-Hop, like seeing people on the corner sucking dinkies. Grown men sucking on dummies?! (Laughs). I remember seeing that and thinking there was some weird stuff around Hip-Hop as well as the cool stuff (laughs). But I remember there was graffiti everywhere that I was growing-up and it was cool to be able to walk down the street and read the walls. I just thought Hip-Hop was dope. I mean, back then, Hip-Hop wasn’t everywhere like it is today. Now, you can walk into a Walmart, there’s rap playing and it’s considered normal. Back then, you’d walk into the supermarket and hear Lite FM playing or something. Hip-Hop hadn’t caught on with the mainstream like it has now. I mean, as far as what frequency I was on back then, it was popular on the street and amongst my friends, but it was really like a secret code, y’know. If you knew then you knew.”
I remember back then, growing-up here in the UK, if you even saw someone wearing their laces a certain way it let you know they must be a Hip-Hop head because it just wasn’t as widely integrated with the mainstream as it’s become now…
“Yeah, definitely. That was the code. It was all about the style of dress, a certain way you might wear something, certain things that you would say and slang that you’d use. I mean, there was nothing set in stone back then in the late-80s / early-90s, so people could come with their own styles…”
Exactly. There were definitely rules to the culture, in terms of not biting etc, but that encouraged people to be original in what they were doing and led to there being so many different flavours and styles in the music…
“Yeah, and we were listening to all of it. I mean, here in New York, Video Music Box was something that mixed all the different elements and flavours of the music together, so whatever was on offer and was good, you messed with it. I mean, really, there wasn’t a lot of artists to choose from back in those days, but most of what you were hearing back then was good because the music was still new and fresh and people were experimenting and bringing new things to the table. Of course, you liked certain things more than others. I mean, I never really liked PM Dawn (laughs). But one thing that I always look at now and think is crazy is how the social voice of Hip-Hop became less and less as the music grew in popularity. I mean, if that side of Hip-Hop was more prevalent nowadays, I think the whole world would have a different view on it.”
When you were growing-up, did you spend most of your childhood in Queens or were you also getting out and seeing the other boroughs of New York?
“I mean, the neighbourhood I grew-up in is real close to Manhattan and is only twenty minutes away on the number seven train. So I’d go across to Manhattan as a kid and caught a little bit of what was going on back then, like the old-school Times Square with the peep shows and arcades. Then, when I hit about twelve-years-0ld, I started going out on my own, hitting the arcades, running around, going crazy and doing retarded s**t (laughs). But I didn’t really get into the real life of the other boroughs until I was about sixteen, going to places, coppin’ weed and stuff like that. But back then, I didn’t really understand any other borough like I understood Queens.”
What were some of the biggest differences that stood out to you between Queens and other New York boroughs?
“I mean, I didn’t really know about the rivalries that had happened between different boroughs until I was about fifteen or sixteen. At first, I thought everywhere in New York was pretty much a place that you had to adapt to. I mean, Queens, to me, was, and is, the most multi-cultural borough in New York. There’s a lot of different ethnicities in Queens. In my neighbourhood, there’s a lot of Dominicans and Colombians, then you also have a lot of Asians. A lot of people in Queens are from families who came from immigrants coming to New York. My pops was an immigrant who came to New York with a couple of dollars in his pocket and he just wanted to make it. So, even from a young age, I always thought that New York is the melting pot that it is. You never know who you’re going to meet walking down the street. I mean, I never had one dominant group of people in my life in terms of race and culture. So to me, it’s just like, people are people. But in terms of the differences between the boroughs, I always remember thinking that Manhattan was a lot more flashy. People always seemed to really want to spruce up their s**t and make it more of a spectacle. Coming from Queens, when you think about the style and fashions that Hip-Hop artists from the area were coming with in the early-90s, it was almost just like work gear. Carhartt jackets, Timberland boots, people were looking like they really worked and were about to put up a roof or some s**t (laughs). So Queens to me was always a little less flashy than some of the other boroughs.”
So when did you first start writing rhymes?
“When I was a little kid, I wanted to know the words to songs that I liked, like Main Source’s “Fakin’ The Funk”. I would sit there, play a little bit of the song, stop it, write the words down. Then play it and stop it again. I’d do that until I had the whole song written down. Doing that kinda taught me the pattern of how to write a rhyme. I did that to a bunch of songs, so I could learn all the words and then look cool as a kid when the song would come on (laughs). I did that with some other Main Source records, Brand Nubian, of course Public Enemy. That Public Enemy “Apocalypse 91…” album helped you out with that as well because they actually gave you the lyrics on the cover (laughs). Then the next thing you know, I was like, ‘Let me try and do my own thing.’ Now, here I am twenty years later still doing that s**t (laughs).”
Was there a point where you felt like you’d made that transition from just being a fan to actually being an emcee in your own right?
“I mean, that feeling really came from me just showing-out, participating in cyphers and people telling me that I was that good. I was always just a fan who wanted to participate, but then there were a couple of moments that made me think that I might really have a shot at doing this properly. I’d be just rockin’ in the neighbourhood and people would be telling me that I was nice, which definitely made me feel good. I remember this one time when I was in sixth grade, we went to this ice-skating rink for a class trip and they started playing A Tribe Called Quest’s “Scenario”. Me and a couple of friends basically rocked the ice-skating rink just imitating “Scenario” (laughs). I guess because we were little kids it looked kinda cute and was a novelty, but it just felt good seeing people going crazy. There were teenage girls lifting me up in the air and stuff like that (laughs). It felt good. I remember, my boy Malik, he played the role of Phife Dawg in that, he was having a good time to. Plus my boy Tommy, who isn’t here anymore, rest in peace. We would just alternate who would take which verse (laughs). Those were good times. But that was a moment that really made me think, ‘Oh man, I really want to do this.’ I was still a little kid at that point though. So, in terms of me actually doing things myself, I was probably about seventeen when I started doing the open-mics here and there. There was one particular event that we rocked really good that made me think I could really do this. Foul Monday was there as well and he’s someone I still rock with today. So there were a couple of situations that happened which made me think I could do this, like when you’d be rhyming and a crowd would develop and people would tell me that music was something that I should pursue.”
Would you see other artists from Queens who were already putting records out around your neighbourhood during that time?
“Not really. I mean, you’d hear about people from Queens who were putting records out. There was always a couple of degrees of separation, like, you’d know someone who knew someone who was involved in something. I remember when Killa Kids from Queensbridge put out a record and I actually used to go to school with a couple of them. So when I saw they actually had a record out, that was cool. But in terms of established artists who were already out there, I never really saw anyone face-to-face or just saw them hanging-out. I mean, a couple of artists would pass through now and then, like you’d hear someone say that Mobb Deep were around the way. So you might see them, but it wasn’t something that would happen everyday, so it was still something special when that would happen. I mean, of course, you might have run into different artists in different neighbourhoods or if you were involved with certain circles of people, but I didn’t personally.”
When you first started rhyming did you have the intention then of releasing music to a wider audience or was it just something you initially intended to keep within your own circle?
“In my mind, when I was writing anything, I was writing it like it was going to be the most famous hit song ever (laughs). But really, it was just for the craft of it and to entertain myself, like, ‘How well can I write a rhyme right now?’ I never felt like I could rest creatively. I would always be trying to see if I could write something better than the last rhyme that I wrote.”
Something that’s been very clear listening to the projects you’ve put out in recent years is that you obviously really enjoy the creative process that goes into writing rhymes….
“Of course. I mean, you’re the controller of your own world when you’re rhyming. You can take what life gives you and feed it back out in your own way with your own spin on it….
You can definitely tell that you’re putting real effort into your verses and not just writing down the first thing that comes into your head. Your style is very vivid and visual and you have plenty of quotable lines that stay with the listener after the music has stopped…
“That’s cool. I appreciate that. I mean, that’s the aim. As an emcee, I want to write rhymes that are timeless. I feel that Hip-Hop has really poor representatives right now, because so many people think that it’s all about them and their quest to get rich. Not many people are really doing new stuff right now or trying to bring new fans to Hip-Hop. I mean, I want to try and reach the girls who work in retail and listen to techno (laughs). I want to catch their attention because I’m doing something a little different to what they’re used to, so that if they heard my music they’d be telling people, ‘I heard this really cool song today.’ I mean, that’s how we all got turned on to Hip-Hop. That’s how you got turned on to Hip-Hop at one time. It might seem so long ago now, but at some point you heard something that was so odd and so honest that it really stood out and brought you into Hip-Hop and made you want to know and hear more. I just don’t think there are enough artists doing that today.”
You’re definitely right. For me, hearing Grandmaster Flash & The Furious Five’s “The Message” in 1982 introduced me to Hip-Hop and what intrigued me about that record so much was that it wasn’t like anything I’d heard before as a kid. I wanted to understand it. But I think part of the problem today is that a lot of listeners don’t have the attention span to peel back the layers of a record. They want to understand everything straight away and not have to try to decode what an artist is saying or find a deeper meaning in their rhymes…
“Definitely. But, as an artist, you have to be interesting enough to make people want to decode your stuff. Like, for example, if you think back to when Wu-Tang first came out, they were a lot more interesting than a lot of other artists that were out at the time. I mean, if you were to compare Wu-Tang to another act out at the time, like a Das EFX. That might seem like a weird comparison, but a group like Das EFX, they didn’t really have any deep substance in their rhymes. That’s not to dis them, but they were more about their diggedy-diggedy style and how they said their rhymes rather than being about substance. But with a group like Wu-Tang, when they came out, you really had to pay attention to what they were talking about because they came with their own slang and their whole approach drew you into their world and made you want to understand where they were coming from. Wu really started their own sub-culture in Hip-Hop. So, as an artist, I think it’s important to make what you’re doing interesting enough to make people want to get deeper into your music and try to understand what you’re about once they do hear it.”
Some years back you began working with fellow Queens lyricists Spit Gemz and Shaz Illyork and became affiliated with their movement The Opposition. How did that happen?
“It was really through the internet. Spit Gemz hit me up on the internet, told me that he’d seen that I’d done some stuff and that I should come by and try to work on something. So he brought me over to Goblin Studios in Queens, introduced me to everyone there and I’ve been working with them now for some years. So it was really cool. But we really just hooked-up on some regular checking-your-inbox type s**t.”
Goblin Music Studios really seems to have become a focal point for a lot of today’s Queens emcees as well as attracting established artists from elsewhere in New York…
“Yeah, yeah. I mean, there aren’t a lot of places now that are able to facilitate what you want to do with your music but also be part of the music as well. I mean, with a lot of studios, you go there, you exchange money for the session, you rock for a few hours and then you take your stuff and leave. You don’t really care too much about the place itself or the studio dog (laughs). But Goblin Studios is a little bit different. It just has so much character. It’s kind of an edgy place. I mean, I knew Gob Goblin from back in the days. I met him in a cypher rapping when I was a teenager and he’s definitely a talented emcee in his own right.”
Was that before or after he was featured on a couple of the Beatnuts’ albums?
“That was actually during the time he was out on the Beatnuts albums. Then when Spit Gemz first took me to Goblin Studios I was like, ‘I know this guy.’ But it’s a different element in that studio. It’s like, a lot of that back in the days kind of energy, like high-school stuff, mobbin’ out with a bunch of kids, rockin’ on the corners. There’s always a bunch of people around the studio hanging-out, so that creates an audience for what you’re doing. I mean, there’s one side of the studio that’s about making music and being creative, then there’s the other side of it which is about hanging-out, drinking, telling jokes and then it might turn into a cypher and the next thing you know you’ve got a performance going on (laughs). There’s definitely a lot of different elements that are part of Goblin Studios that make it different from most other studios. Plus, there’s the fact that a lot of old-school artists come there to record now. I mean, Sadat X has been in there a lot, M.O.P. are there a lot, Sean Price. So the studio has kind of been a beacon to like-minded people and has drawn them there.”
It must be kind of crazy for you to be in Goblin Studios hanging-out with legends like Sadat X when twenty years ago you were writing down his rhymes so you could learn them…
“Yeah, I actually said that to Sadat. It is crazy. But you get over it. I mean, you don’t want to make too much of it and make it out like it’s some crazy, mystical thing, y’know (laughs). I mean, I’ve been fortunate enough to work with people I grew-up listening to and I hope I get to work with more. You’ve always gotta pay homage to those who came before us in anyway you can, but I think the best way to pay homage is to make good music that comes from an honest place, reflects some skill and gives Hip-Hop some credibility back.”
Given how vivid your rhyme style is, what’s your creative process when you sit down to write?
“It really comes down to whatever I feel when I turn on a beat and then I try to hold onto that feeling for as long as I can. So, often, I’ll get an idea from listening to a particular beat and it builds from there. Like, with the “Buddha Bless” joint on the new album, One-Take sent me a video of him making a beat with his son on his lap and it was that beat. So I started thinking about all the wild s**t that I did when I was a kid and I wrote the song hoping that One-Take’s kid wouldn’t turn out to be an a**hole like I was (laughs). I just put a more crazy spin on it with the things that I was saying on there. But when I’m writing in general, I really just try to stay free with what I’m thinking about and I really try to have fun with it.”
Considering how closely linked a lot of the current generation of Queens emcees are, Spit Gemz, Eff Yoo, Nutso etc, how much competition is there amongst you all?
“It’s always there. I mean, there’s a certain vernacular that people use in Hip-Hop, like, ‘Yo, you killed him on that song!’ But I really don’t try to take it that far. You’ve just got to be yourself and offer your own style. So I don’t really take it that far with those type of conversations because when you start thinking like that I think it can really affect your writing and you can starting coming across like someone who’s constantly trying too hard. I mean, there’s always competition, but you’ve just got to deliver by being yourself, and if you’re not doing that then people won’t be mentioning your name. As long as people are mentioning your name and checking for your music then you’re good. I mean, no-one wants to be known as the weakest link in the chain, so that competitive element is always there, but it’s not that intense or prevalent in every conversation we have. It’s not like we all sit around telling each other, ‘Yo! You really did me in on that song!’ There’s none of that s**t (laughs).”
You definitely all seem to support each other’s work as well through social media etc…
“I mean, I have no doubt in my mind that most of my real fans are rappers. I don’t have the fanbase that I need to have, and the reason that I have been able to gain any momentum is because other artists who do already have fanbases have shown people my music and told them that it’s something that they should be listening to.”
There’s been an on-going debate in recent years about New York having lost its musical identity etc. Do you find yourself becoming frustrated with the New York Hip-Hop scene when major media outlets such as Hot 97 and different magazines / websites continue to front on a lot of underground NY artists who’re putting out quality music?
“Nah, I just don’t think people are really up on it like that. I mean, if you know then you know. People wouldn’t be complaining about the music if they really knew the sources to go to. They wouldn’t be complaining about the lack of New York Hip-Hop if they knew about certain artists. To me, the people who deserve to know about it know about it. For those who don’t know, and don’t try to look for it, then stay in radio land or wherever. There’s always going to be dope records out there for people who keep their eyes peeled. But I don’t get frustrated about it. I’m still going to do what I’m doing. It’s not really that much of a big deal to me. Whatever the end of the story may be, it’s all about the journey for me. Regardless of what is happening in the mainstream, I still have people who’re supporting my music and keeping it above water. It’s definitely not falling on deaf ears and there is still an audience and an appreciation for it. I mean, of course there are industry politics involved as well. If I had a huge budget and a lot of money to throw at my projects, then I know I’d be in a different spot to where I’m at right now. I’m at the stage where the money I make from music goes into making more music. I might have some money left from it here and there which I can use to pay some bills or buy some food, but otherwise the money is going back into the music. So, if people really want to see artists who’re not getting the attention they might deserve make it to a certain point, they just need to support them to the fullest extent. Buy the albums, buy the merchandise and go to the shows if they’re touring in your neighbourhood.”
You seem to have built up a very strong fanbase across Europe. Has that surprised you at all?
“I’ll be honest, the support is much greater from Europe than it is anywhere else in terms of fans buying the music and reaching out to collaborate on material. It was crazy at first when I saw that was happening. It was back in the MySpace days that started to happen with me. I noticed that people from Europe were buying my music and then producers from places like France and Switzerland started to reach out to me with beats wanting to work together. It was definitely cool and surprising when it started happening. But now, it’s really just part of the game. Those are the people who I’m making my music for now. You always try to aim at your target audience when you’re putting a project together, so I’m thinking about those fans all across Europe when I’m recording music now and hope that they continue to enjoy what I’m doing and come back each time I put something new out.”
Why do you think the support is so strong across Europe when you’re having to fight to get the same level of support at home?
“Me and a friend were just talking about that. I think the respect that people have for Hip-Hop in Europe is that much more intense because it’s not in your face. I mean, you guys out there aren’t from the place where it started and I think that means you have more respect for the origins of the culture. Over here, in New York, it’s like old news to some people. Whereas, to people elsewhere in the world, New York Hip-Hop culture is almost like a mythical creature. So it goes beyond just supporting the music and becomes about supporting that feeling of golden-era type s**t. People want that feeling of genuine Hip-Hop with honest lyrics that’s true to the history of the culture, which they’re not getting from hearing contrived music that’s made in a laboratory somewhere to brainwash your kids (laughs). I think in Europe there’s just more of an awareness that the feeling of Hip-Hop is going away and they’re trying to bring it back around perhaps more than people are doing here in the States. But yo, I’m trying to get to Europe as soon as I can. I just need to get my name out there more, keep making music and I’m sure it will happen.”
The artwork for the new album “Blood From A Stone” is definitely striking. What’s the concept behind the cover?
” I love the cover art, I think it’s great. But I originally wanted it to be very scary-looking like a “Tales From The Crypt” comic. I just wanted the image to make people think a little and tamper with the idea they might have of what living in America or New York is really all about. I wanted to take an image of New York that’s glorified, the Statue Of Liberty, and make it something dark. I just wanted to show people that we’re not living in the land of freedom that some people think we are.”
“Blood From A Stone” is produced entirely by Brooklyn’s One-Take. You’ve featured his production before on previous projects such as “Something In The Water”, but what prompted you to work exclusively with him on this new album?
“I work really, really fast if I like a beat. With One-Take, he was around Goblin Studios and he’d leave me beats to check and he also started emailing me stuff. So when I was at home chillin’ and in the mood to write, I had a nice collection of his beats already. I mean, we’d already done a couple of really good joints on “Something In The Water”. So we just started stashing songs away. Then, by the end of last summer, we realised we had about twelve or thirteen songs finished so we decided we had to start thinking about how we were going to put them out. I mean, the songs on the album came together gradually, but it just worked out that they sound very cohesive as an album. But in terms of the beats, One-Take has a very golden-era sound to what he does and I like to rhyme over music that has feeling to it. So the album definitely isn’t contrived in anyway, it’s just natural stuff that came out of the two of us working together.”
What I like about One-Take’s production is that it’s definitely influenced by that golden-era boom-bap but it still has its own character and flavour. It doesn’t sound like someone just trying to emulate a DJ Premier or a Pete Rock…
“Yeah, it’s definitely original. I mean, One-Take has been doing this for a long time and he’s a student of the game. As a producer, you don’t want to fall into the category of sounding like another producer, otherwise people are just going to go and listen to the original rather than listen to the knock-off. So you have to be doing original stuff.”
You also have veteran NY emcees on “Blood From A Stone” like Shabaam Sahdeeq and Tragedy Khadafi. It must feel good knowing that your music is being embraced by those artists who came before you and left their own mark on the game…
“Yeah. But I really have to give a lot of the credit to that happening being down to me being stationed in Goblin Studios. I mean, Shabaam Sahdeeq isn’t necessarily an artist who records a lot at Goblin, although he’s always welcome to, but we did do the song together there as he happened to come by. We’d been talking and were both fans of each other, so that’s how that happened. With Tragedy, he’s an artist who records at Goblin all the time. So I met him over there, we got to talk and build, and I have a lot of respect for him in terms of his contribution to Hip-Hop and what he does on the mic. Tragedy is definitely someone whose opinions you need to respect and you have to listen to any advice he may give creatively. That’s why I’m honoured that he would even want to do a song with me. It’s a blessing. But I really have to say a lot of it came down to me being in the right place at the right time and that place was Goblin Studios.”
With the amount of artists who’re affiliated with Goblin Studios, are there any plans for a Goblin compilation project?
“I’ve been trying to do that. I might have to be the one that steals all the music out of the studio and just puts it out (laughs). I might have to just go in there with a USB stick, take everything, put all the music out, and then have everyone mad at me for a couple of weeks. But I’ve definitely been saying that’s something we should do. I mean, Gob Goblin himself is a tremendous emcee in his own right and there’s tracks in the studio that are laying around waiting to be released. But, he’s also a business-minded guy, so I think that’s part of the reason why a compilation hasn’t come out yet because he wants to make sure anything that does come out is done the right way.”
When you look at the newer generation of artists currently coming out of Queens, Meyhem Lauren, Timeless Truth, yourself, the borough definitely seems to be putting the New York underground in a choke-hold right now with a real collective focus on lyricism…
“Yeah. I mean, similar to what we were just saying about Europe, out of all the New York boroughs, I think we care more in Queens. I mean, Hip-Hop is like a sport really, and I think we take it very seriously, we put the training in and that shows in the way we express ourselves musically. It’s just what we do. I mean, in Brazil there are dudes who practice kicking a soccer ball around for fifteen hours. In Queens, we do rap s**t for fifteen hours (laughs). If you’re from Queens, then you know the code of what’s right and what’s wrong as far as what you want to hear in music. At the same time, you can’t put yourself in a box as an artist, but there’s certain s**t that’s just not going to fly.”
So what future plans does Starvin B have?
“Well, I’m trying to see the whole world and put out as much music as I can. I basically just want to enjoy life, man. Eventually, I’d like to get into writing some screenplays and putting some visual art together. Maybe some short films, stuff like that. That’s definitely a goal of mine. I’ve always liked movies and I’ve already started writing some screenplays. I’ve read screenplays so I understand the format they’re put together in, like working on the dialogue and writing the whole scene out. I’m not really looking at focussing on a particular genre, I’d just like to tell some stories. But anything that I did would definitely be very closely based around real life because my problem with movies sometimes is when they’re just not realistic and I’m like, ‘That’s bulls**t!’ (Laughs). But the writing side of it is what interests me, I’m not trying to be an actor or a director. I’m sure I probably could do some acting, but that’s not something that I’m rushing to get into.”
What are some of your favourite films?
“There’s a lot of them. I could go everywhere (laughs). I mean, I really liked everything from “Ghostbusters” to “Edward Scissorhands” to “Taxi Driver”. Then there’s things like “Goodfellas”, of course. But that was everyone’s favourite movie (laughs). “A Bronx Tale” is another one. “The Gods Must Be Crazy” is an ill movie as well. I’d like to do a movie like that. But I like all kinds of movies. I mean, Disney’s “Fantasia” was an ill movie growing-up. “Fantasia” is a trip, man. There’s something about that movie that doesn’t feel like it was really made for a child’s mind. There was just something about that movie, man (laughs).”
So for anyone reading this who isn’t already familiar with your music, why should they now check out Starvin B?
“Well, they should definitely listen for the simple fact that I’m being written about right now. Somebody has chosen to do this interview and talk to me about my music. That would intrigue me enough. I mean, if you’ve read this whole interview I think that should be enough to make you wanna listen to my music. My music is something that’s done from a very honest place and if you respect anything with any grit to it, then you’ll like it.”
Any final words?
“Just for everyone to try to support. Also, I’m always down to network, so hit me up at firstname.lastname@example.org. Anybody that’s wants to work can hit me up there. I’m doing this grassroots, so anyone who wants to work or collaborate, I’m the guy that you talk to.
Follow Starvin B on Twitter – @Starvin_B
Starvin B – “Blue Note” (StarvinB.BandCamp.Com / 2014)
Spit Gemz ft. Starvin B – “Hersey Hawkins” (@SpitGemz / 2012)
One-Take-produced track from the NY emcee’s forthcoming project “Fvck The Radio”.