As one-half of London-based duo Prose alongside emcee partner Efeks, producer Steady Rock has been on the UK’s Hip-Hop radar for the best part of a decade now, mixing quality releases such as the “Wasted Talent” EP with appearances on projects like Disorda’s “Suspect Files Vol. 4”.
It wasn’t until last year, however, that the pair released the official debut Prose album “Force Of Habit” through their own Boombap Professionals imprint. An accomplished project full of polished sample-heavy production from Steady and confident wordplay from Efeks, “Force Of Habit” was clearly the culmination of years spent studying, loving and practicing the art and culture of Hip-Hop.
Having recently released “The 11th Hour Massacre” with Prose affiliate Crusada, Steady speaks here about recording the new project, choosing his musical collaborators carefully and dealing with boom-bap baggage.
It’s been almost a year since the release of the first Prose album “Force Of Habit” – were you happy with the overall response to the project?
“Generally, I think we were happy with it. You always hope a project will do better, but the feedback we got on the album was excellent. We would’ve liked a lot more sales to be totally honest, but people were bootlegging and downloading the album before it was officially released on CD. It’s almost like you’re fighting a losing battle, but if your heart’s in it then you just keep pushing and hope that you can generate enough sales to be able to put money back into the next project. So Efeks and I were just happy we managed to get enough interest behind the album to be able to do another project. We never wanted to just make one album and then fall off or give up. Our goal was always to put out a series of releases. Even if “Force Of Habit” hadn’t of got a good reception we’d have still carried on (laughs). So any accolades or props we got from the album were a bonus really.”
You mentioned that the album was being unofficially downloaded which hurt sales. Do you think that even with all the publicity surrounding illegal downloading people still don’t fully appreciate the negative impact it can have on an artist?
“To be honest with you, I think a lot of people are still clueless about the impact downloading can have on an artist. We live in a culture of instant gratification nowadays, so when it comes to music, people hear something, want it, and just download it from wherever they can get it from, even if it’s not through channels that will benefit the artist. I mean, if you’re talking about someone like a Jay-Z, he will still achieve thousands of sales even if people download his material, so it all balances out to some degree for major artists. But for independent artists where literally every sale counts, people downloading your music can have a huge impact on whether you’re financially able to continue recording, manufacturing and releasing your product. We started the BBP label around 2004 / 2005 and we knew from early on how important the Internet was going to be, so a lot of our first releases as Prose were made available as free downloads. I mean, hopefully people would think that an eighteen-track album is worth paying for, but as far as singles are concerned why not put them out for free and gain the interest that will then lead to people wanting to support a full-length project.”
It almost seems like some people think that because underground / independent artists are supposedly only “doing it for the love” that you wouldn’t actually expect to make any money from your music so it doesn’t really matter…
“I think there are people out there who do have that way of thinking and, unfortunately, all the artists out there who put real time and effort into their music are victims of that. I think because people are so used to seeing a lot of artists putting throwaway tracks and freestyles up for download just to try and keep their name out there, they don’t fully realise how much time and effort actually goes into putting together a properly recorded and mixed album of original material. I mean, “Force Of Habit” wasn’t completed in a month. There was a couple of years work put into that album and it was recorded whilst people were raising kids, working day jobs, moving house, all that kind of stuff. Part of the reason we founded the BBP label was because we didn’t want to just drop random tracks. We wanted to put out releases with proper artwork, release dates, catalogue numbers and publishing. There are so many artists nowadays just throwing random tracks out through places like YouTube with no real thinking behind making a statement with their music or the potential legacy they may be creating. We just always wanted to do it properly and make sure we were putting out an end product that we were totally happy with.”
So what prompted you to put out the new Steady & Crusada project “The 11th Hour Massacre” primarily as a digital release?
“I’ve known Crusada for years and obviously he was also featured on the Prose album. We’d been talking for awhile about doing something together because I really rate him as an emcee and I wanted to hear him over some of my beats. Initially, it just started off as us only doing one track together, but then it soon spiralled into a full project (laughs). At first we were talking about releasing it purely as a digital project mainly because of the simplicity of doing it that way and it also meant we could get it out a lot quicker once the music was done. But the more we talked about it we decided that there were still people out there interested in owning physical product, so we decided to do a limited run of CDs with the idea being that if the demand was there we could press more. So it wasn’t a super conscious decision not to focus on physical product, it was more just a case of convenience, not in a lazy way but in terms of wanting to put the music out there quicker.”
Given that you’re used to working in a one emcee / one producer partnership with Efeks as Prose, was working with Crusada any different in terms of the creative process behind “The 11th Hour Massacre”?
“It was quite similar really. I mean, I think because we’d already worked together and knew each other beforehand we each knew how the other one likes to work in the studio. With the Prose material, Efeks and I do spend a lot more time working on it because that’s always been our main focus. So because of that I suppose we have more input into each other’s creative process in terms of him telling me the type of beat he wants for a particular rhyme he has and also me giving feedback on his lyrics. So we kick a lot of ideas back and forth when we’re recording in the same way that I imagine artists liked Pete Rock & CL Smooth and Gang Starr would have worked with one producer and one emcee. Whereas with “The 11th Hour Massacre” there was a little less of that because of the nature of the project and the type of working relationship I have with Crusada. But that said, we were still bouncing ideas off of each other which is how it grew from us doing just one track together to a whole project. Even the title itself came from a conversation we had about how Crusada was fed-up with the UK scene and the industry etc. I played him some of the stuff I’d been working on and he was like, “Steady, this is what I’ve been waiting for! Some real boom-bap! You’ve saved me in the 11th hour!” It sounds kind of corny to tell you a back story like that but that’s exactly how it came together (laughs).”
Following the Crusada project do you have plans to work with other emcees and do more production work outside of Prose?
“That’s a good question. I’ve had a lot of offers from people asking me to do production for them, but I’ve never been one of those people you see posting ‘Buy a beat for £50’ on Facebook. I mean, I consider myself a producer and not just a beat-maker. I want to be involved in the whole process and not just give a track to someone to go off and do what they want with it. I’m not really interested in just throwing my tracks out there for just any emcee to get on. I want there to be some sort of purpose to it. So that’s why there’s probably less of my tracks out there on other people’s projects than there could be. I could’ve thrown some of my stuff out there and made some quick money off people who were willing to pay for my tracks, but at the end of the day I want to be able to stand behind the finished product and in order to do that I have to be able to respect the emcee I’m working with as an artist. I wouldn’t compromise myself by working with just anybody. It’s really important to both me and Efeks that any music we’re involved in hopefully has some sort of longevity to it.”
Playing devil’s advocate, what do you say to people who might think that the whole Boombap Professionals concept is a way of trying to hold on to a bygone era in Hip-Hop?
“I can see why some people might think that and we’ve even thought about it ourselves because we don’t want to just be seen as a group or label that’s described only as “throwback” or “backpack”. The whole Boombap Professionals thing really came about by accident. I had an Akai S950 sampler in the studio and at the time I had one of those Dymo label writers and I was basically labelling anything that moved (laughed). I printed out a label saying ‘Boombap’ and decided to stick it on the sampler where it said Akai Professionals, so then it read ‘Boombap Professionals’ and it was something me and Efeks really liked the sound of. Initially we were just going to use it as a production name like ‘Produced by Steady for BBP’, but over time it just grew into its own thing and that’s how the label was born. So we didn’t ever set out to say we’re only about mid-90s boom-bap but we do wear our hearts on our sleeves in terms of the music we grew-up listening to. I’ve been a Hip-Hop head since 1985 when I was just 11-years-old and I can remember buying albums like LL Cool J’s “Radio”, Public Enemy’s “Yo! Bum Rush The Show” and Stetsasonic’s “In Full Gear”. So we really were the boom-bap generation because that’s what the music was about when we were being drawn into Hip-Hop. So the Boombap Professionals name really fitted because it is us and that’s the sound that influenced us. But at the same time we weren’t trying to turn it into some sort of cliche or jump on a retro bandwagon. Choosing that name was just something that happened organically but it can be a double-edged sword.”
So what’s next for BBP?
“We’ve got the new Prose album coming in November which I’m really excited about. It’s called “The Dark Side Of The Boom” and it’s not a change in direction as such from what people heard on “Force Of Habit”, but I would say it’s possibly got a bit of a harder edge to it. We didn’t go out of our way to make something different, but our sound seems to have developed naturally. That’s why we decided to call it “The Dark Side Of The Boom” because it defintely shows the darker side of Prose. Hopefully people will like it as much as they liked “Force Of Habit” but the new album definitely has a slightly different flavour to it.”
Both “Force Of Habit” and “The 11th Hour Massacre” are available via iTunes / Bandcamp etc.
Steady & Crusada – “Stay On My Grind” (BBP / 2011)