A true veteran of the underground Hip-Hop scene, North Carolina’s Supastition is no stranger to the ups and downs of the independent music world, having experienced a career which has seen him cross paths with reputable labels such as Rawkus and Okayplayer, whilst also sharing mic time on wax with the likes of KRS-One, Little Brother and Elzhi.
With his debut 2002 album “7 Years Of Bad Luck” introducing listeners to a raw, battle-ready lyricist, subsequent releases such as “Chain Letters” and “Leave Of Absence” found Supastition confidently carving out his own niche in the market, combining his uncompromising verses with production from the likes of Illmind, Jake One and Foreign Exchange’s Nicolay.
In 2008, Supa surprised many long-standing fans by deciding to step away from his original rap moniker, choosing instead to release his “Self-Centered” EP and subsequent “Splitting Image” album under his real name of Kam Moye. With the reason for the decision being given, partially, as the then Charlotte-based emcee wanting to evolve as an artist, the name-change confused some listeners, resulting in the RBC Records-released “Splitting Image” receiving a mixed reception.
Having publicly retired from music in 2010 for personal reasons, the rapper’s 2013 comeback release “The Blackboard” was met with open-arms (and ears) by loyal supporters, with the EP not only showcasing the Southern emcee returning to his trademark boom-bap sound, but also reclaiming the Supastition name.
Setting off 2014 with the recent release of his “Honest Living” EP, produced entirely by Germany’s Croup, the consistently impressive wordsmith is back with a new game plan and a rejuvenated passion for his craft.
Here, Supastition discusses his reasons for once again picking up the mic, the power of perception and his recent move to Atlanta.
You announced your retirement from the rap game in 2010 after almost a decade of releasing music. What prompted you to return at the beginning of last year with your EP “The Blackboard”?
“When I first started doing music, I did it just for the love and for the passion of it. So when it became a job for me, that’s when I began to hate it. So when I took those years off and just worked a nine-to-five and got to see what it was like to have someone bring you your paycheck every month instead of you having to chase people for your paycheck, I was coming home everyday and was like, ‘Yo, I don’t know what non-music people do.’ So I would still record and write, but nobody was hearing it and I had no intentions of releasing anything. But the thing that really made me get back into, I basically just started over and fell in love with the music all over again. I kinda stayed off of internet websites in terms of looking at music reviews and comments and just spent time listening to music that I enjoyed. So I avoided getting caught up in all the bulls**t music that people would be promoting online and I just focused on listening to the music that I liked and that I could relate to. Also, I was listening to different instrumental albums from producers and that would inspire me to sit down and write. So it really just came down to me falling in love with the music again and having that feeling to actually want to write and record.”
So it was really a case of you re-igniting your love for music in general as much as it was about your own music?
“Yeah. Plus, during that time that I was off, I got a call from Stoupe who used to be in Jedi Mind Tricks, and he wanted to do an album. Now, Stoupe’s not really an internet guy and a year had gone by since I announced I was quitting the music industry and he had no idea (laughs). So he was sending me beats and I was like, ‘Damn! Do I break the news to this guy or do I just roll with it?’ So I rolled with it and we ended-up knocking out a whole album together. Then it was after we finished that album that I started working on the “Blackboard” EP. So it was a slow transition back into it and really I just missed recording music. But I realised that instead of trying to chase the dream, there were people out there already who wanted to hear my music, so I wanted to put music out for them, rather than trying to chase the fans that everyone else has or focusing on trying to gain new fans. So I went into recording “The Blackboard” looking to make music for those people that had already been supporting me and really wanting to please them.”
Was it almost a liberating experience to cut yourself off from the internet for awhile and enjoy music the old-fashioned way again?
“Instead of following the hype that people would put out on Twitter or on their blogs, I would go into record stores and see that someone had a new album out. I would pick up the album, open up the CD and just ride around the city before I got home just listening to the whole album. I mean, when something new comes out now it almost get spoiled because of how it’s treated online. It’s almost like the difference between buying regular milk and soy milk (laughs). You buy regular milk and it only lasts you a matter of days, but you buy soy milk and that s**t will last you six months (laughs). So when I took that time off, I kinda stayed away from what was happening online because I feel that can spoil the music experience sometimes. So I went back to bumpin’ albums for like six months because I didn’t care about what was coming out every week and trying to keep up with everything. If I liked an album, then I was listening to it for six months because that’s the way that I used to do it when I would listen to an album like “Illmatic” for the whole summer after it dropped. So I really had to rediscover that feeling again.”
Prior to your retirement announcement, you’d released the “Splitting Image” album in 2009 under your real name Kam Moye. When we spoke at the time, you said the main reason for the name change was because you felt the music you were making then wasn’t as aggressive as the music people were used to hearing from you as Supasition so you almost felt trapped creatively by the expectations fans would have of any music you put out under that name. So with that in mind, why did you decide to still come back out as Supastition last year rather than Kam Moye?
“I guess with that, it was really more of a natural thing. I mean, the biggest problem I had with Supastition was that I never really knew what type of music people wanted out of me. I think the way I heard myself compared to how other people heard me was completely different. I mean, I’d look on some of these music sites like Pandora and it’d have a list of artists that were supposedly similar to what I did and I’d be like, ‘Yo! These guys aren’t like me!‘ But once I sat back and thought about how people heard me, I realised that they wanted music from me like they’d heard on “The Deadline” and “Chain Letters”. But with the Supastition / Kam Moye thing, at the time I did that, I really needed some type of positivity in my life. I wasn’t surrounded by positive people at that point, so the only way I really knew how to bring out that element of positivity was through my music. So that kinda spurred me on to change the name and do the Kam Moye thing with the “Splitting Image” album. But since doing that I’ve learnt that I can have more of a balance, be Supastition and still make the type of songs that were on the “Splitting Image” album. I mean, if you listen to that album, the type of subject matter I was dealing with on there has been sprinkled throughout my albums since the beginning of my career. Even when I started recording under Kam Moye, people told me back then that it was all about perception and fans might not totally understand it. I mean, if McDonalds changed the name of the Big Mac tomorrow, there would be a million people that would say it just doesn’t taste the same (laughs). So I had to realise that perception is everything and people want to hear certain things from certain artists and I needed to come to grips with that.”
In the years since you released “Splitting Image” you’ve been quite honest and open about the fact that you don’t think the album did necessarily connect with a lot of your core fan-base…
“I think that everything involved with it was just too much for people to digest at once. First of all there was the name change, then there was also a lot of features which I don’t think people were used to hearing on my albums. I’d never really had a lot of features on my albums, but when you get involved with labels they want features on your project to help it appeal to more people. So, it was almost like “Splitting Image” strayed away from everything that made me and I had to compromise with labels and distributors on guests. I mean, there was one guest in particular that I really didn’t want on the album and I had to fight with the label over it, but they were like, ‘Well, we’ve already paid for the feature so let’s put it on there anyway.’ I mean, when I go back and listen to that album, I do think it was a good album but it just wasn’t well-executed. I could have done it so much better. If you go back and listen to the Kam Moye “Self-Centered” EP that I put out in 2008, that’s what the “Splitting Image” album was supposed to sound like. But when you listen to the EP and the album back-to-back, they sound completely different, even though I was working with similar producers. But it was also a weird time for me to, because a lot of the producers I was working with like Illmind and M-Phazes started doing more non-sampled beats and that’s not the direction I wanted to go in. It was just a weird situation and too much for people to digest at once.”
Perhaps in years to come “Splitting Image” will become an album that people enjoy more in the wider context of your full discography?
“The comparison I use is that maybe one day people will look at it like Tribe’s “Beats, Rhymes And Life”. I mean, when I first heard “Beats, Rhymes And Life”, I didn’t really like it because it was so different to anything Tribe had done before. Consequence was on there and it had a different type of sound to their previous albums with the type of drums they were using. It was just hard for me to digest at the time. But now it’s probably one of my favourite Tribe albums (laughs). I mean, over the course of time, and as I’ve gotten older, it’s become one of those albums I can just put on, vibe out to and enjoy more now than I did when it first came out. So “Splitting Image” will hopefully become an album like that, with fans enjoying it more as time goes on”.
There was a line on the track “Indestructible” from last year’s “Blackboard” EP where you said how you “Never seem to please the elitists or the know-it-alls…” What inspired that particular lyric?
“Basically, when it comes to Hip-Hop purists, and I include myself in that, it’s very hard to please us. A lot of the things we say we want, when we get them, it’s still not enough (laughs). So that line was about me just continuing to do what I do, regardless. I mean, I’ve been making boom-bap music for the longest, but when it comes out, critics are going to give me a three-and-a-half no matter what (laughs). I know there will always be people out there who I can’t please, so I’m just going to make music for the fans who really enjoy what I do. Before, I used to really care about that and I wanted the purists and everyone to gravitate to my music, but it doesn’t always work out like that. I mean, there will always be people out there, especially online, who just like going against things and picking out what’s wrong. I always joke with a friend of mine, like, if Jesus was to return tomorrow there would be someone out there who would be talking about the fact he’s wearing sandals or they would have something to say about his robe (laughs). People find the weirdest things to complain about sometimes and are more likely to tell you what’s wrong with something before they tell you what they like about it.”
What’s the concept behind your new “Honest Living” EP?
“At the time I’d stopped doing music, I’d been working at this one particular job for a couple of years. Y’know, going in everyday and just trying to be the best worker you can be, getting by. Then the company I was working for had lost a contract and so the entire operation was shut down and they were laying people off and all of that. I was just like, ‘Damn! This is almost like what I went through with music, with labels shutting down, distributors shutting down.’ So I was there thinking, ‘Where do I go from here?’ So anyway, everyone at my job got laid off, we were all unemployed, then shortly after that North Carolina became the first state in the US to cut federal benefits for unemployment. So you get a couple of weeks unemployment benefit and then that’s it. I was looking around and there were all these people who were out of work, then I’d watch the news and they were saying that employment was up! I’d be like, ‘I don’t know which jobs you’re checking.’ It was really hard to find a job at the time and that inspired me to sit down and write something because I felt I really needed to speak on this. I’d touched on working jobs in some of my songs before, but I really wanted to put something together for people who were going through it, people who were out there searching for jobs and people who’re working who feel under-appreciated at their jobs. So that’s basically what the “Honest Living” EP is about. Also, it’s almost like a warning to rappers, like, yo, you’re not always going to be on top. At some point, you might have to get a regular job and humble yourself, and that really takes a lot.”
It definitely seems like the gap between the haves and the have-nots in society is constantly shrinking. That comfortable, middle-class dream that people in our parents’ generation were sold is almost non-existent today…
“Me and my manager were recently discussing the same subject and we agreed that the middle-class has disappeared in everything. There’s really no middle-class with the economy, there’s no middle-class with music anymore, you’re either an independent unknown or a superstar (laughs). Nobody really cares about anybody in-between. It’s crazy how that’s happened.”
Was there a particular reason why you chose to work exclusively with Germany’s Croup for the production on the new EP?
“I’ve had a lot of Croup beats over the years and as I started going through them I realised that I had more beats from Croup than probably any other producer I’ve worked with. So, I decided to record to a couple of them. Then I had rhymes that I’d recorded to some other beats but perhaps the production wasn’t really what I wanted. So I would send my vocals over to Croup and he’d remix it and literally create the music around my verses. We talked about it and I told him that I wanted a smooth, melodic vibe to the beats for this project. I mean, Croup has really proved himself to be a consistent producer and he’s been working with me since I put out “The Deadline” in 2004. He’s a humble guy and it’s real easy working with him. “Honest Living” is probably one of the most stress-free projects I’ve ever done and I definitely intend on continuing to work with Croup in the future. I love doing projects with just one producer. It’s almost like the difference between eating from a buffet or having a chef prepare something especially for you (laughs). That’s how I felt sometimes when I was working with bigger-name producers on some of my albums, you’d get to the buffet and everybody’s already taken all of the good stuff. So there I am at the buffet eating the macaroni and cheese when really I want some quality steak cooked exactly how I like it (laughs). I like having a producer tailor-make a beat for me and that’s how it was working with Croup on this new project.”
The production on the EP’s lead single “Eardrum” really reminded me of some vintage mid-90s Erick Sermon material with that warm bass, those melodic keys and the Redman vocal sample on the hook…
“Right, right. That’s what it reminded me of when I first heard it as well. I mean, when Croup sent me that beat I was like, ‘Hell yeah!’ It reminded me of a Redman / Erick Sermon joint off “Dare Iz A Darkside” or something like that. I was such a huge Hit Squad / Def Squad fan, so when I first heard that track I just thought it was perfect for me. I already liked the beat, but then when I heard that Redman sample on the hook, I was just like, ‘I’m going to murder this!’
Now that you’re balancing your working life with making music, do you feel you’re actually in a better creative space today than perhaps you were when you were concentrating on music full-time?
“I do. I mean, when I listen back to the music I’ve put out over the years, I think I recorded some of my best material when I was still out working before I was able to really start making a living off of music. There’s something about that struggle that gives me a certain edge and certain type of inspiration. It’s almost like when you listen to someone like an Eminem. I mean, to me, some of his best music was made when he was struggling. But then it’s gets to a point where it’s a case of how long can you rap about struggling when you’re not actually struggling anymore? I mean, when I started doing music full-time, I was travelling the world experiencing all these different things, so it was hard for me to go back and write the same type of music that I had been making. I was still getting inspiration, but it was a different type of inspiration. I mean, your mentality is definitely different when you’re relying on music full-time. Whilst recording this “Honest Living” project, going to work everyday and doing what I had to do, I could just make one hundred percent pure music and be okay knowing that whoever felt the music would gravitate towards it and support it, and if people didn’t like it then that was okay as well. When music is all you have to rely on, it’s easy to reach a point where you’re mentality is ‘If this album doesn’t sell then I’m screwed.’ I never wanted to get to that stage. I’m a dedicated father and a dedicated husband, and when you look at it, there aren’t too many happily married famous musicians (laughs). So with me, it actually feels better doing music on these terms because, like I said on the EP intro, when music is all you have, you can start doing a lot of things out of desperation. I got into music just because I wanted to make some dope s**t and that’s still how I feel about it.”
Was the job situation in North Carolina one of the biggest reasons for your recent family move to Atlanta?
“Yeah, that’s probably about ninety percent of the reason why we decided to move. There weren’t really a lot of job opportunities in North Carolina. Plus, there was also the education system which was a concern. I think North Carolina is one of the lowest paying states as far as teachers are concerned and sooner or later that starts to reflect in the quality of the schools. I mean, we’d go to our daughter’s parent / teacher meetings and we’d be some some of the only parents who would show up. So there were a number of things that contributed to the move. But now, we have more family, friends and opportunities in Atlanta than we had in Charlotte. Plus, when it came to my music, it was becoming really difficult to book shows locally because it was always spots that were either a hundred capacity and less, or it was five hundred or more and there was nothing really in-between. There wasn’t really any college radio, the biggest record store in the area was closing down and becoming an F.Y.E. It almost felt like I was fighting a losing battle and when I decided to get back into music I vowed that I wouldn’t make the same mistakes that I had done before. I just couldn’t continue to have this loyalty to a place that as a whole didn’t support me. I mean, I do have supporters in North Carolina, but even they would tell me that I wasn’t being supported enough by my own town. So, overall, the move to Atlanta was a good thing to do, firstly for my family in terms of what we want to accomplish for our kids, but also for my music as well and what the scene in Atlanta has to offer.”
Now you’re somewhat detached from the full-time music rat-race that you were once a part of, has that allowed you to really sit back and appreciate what you have achieved in your career?
“Exactly. That’s the perfect way to explain it. I mean, when I was a full-time artist, you’re comparing everything you do to other artists or other people you know in the game, and sometimes it would get frustrating because I’d feel like I wasn’t moving fast enough or that I hadn’t done enough. But I really didn’t realise how much I’d done until I stopped. It’s almost like I was travelling the path but was never looking back at my footsteps. But when I sat back, I thought about how I got into this music game just because I wanted to see my name on a record and to have people listen to it. So when I stopped to think about it, I’ve come so far past that point that I feel like I have achieved success. But when you’re in that music industry rat race, it’s easy to think that you’re not getting far enough fast enough. But when I took a break from music and looked back on my career, I realised that it was something to be proud of, and that in itself had something do with me wanting to start recording again.”
In the early stages of your career you were always quite outspoken about your frustrations with the music industry. So after all these years, has your opinion on the industry changed at all?
“To be honest, I still hate the music industry today as much as I did back then (laughs). But the biggest difference today is that artists have a lot more options and we don’t have to depend on people to do things, which is one of the things I used to dislike about the industry the most.”
So with your new approach to making music, do you have other projects planned or is it a case of you releasing music as and when time allows?
“I definitely have plans and it’s really great that I have a manager now who can really help keep things in perspective and figure things out while I’m just kinda living life. We still have the album with Stoupe and we’re really trying to work out all the marketing and distribution for that record, which has taken close to two years to get out of the way. But it’s funny how life works and how sometimes when you don’t try too hard, more things come your way (laughs). I’m constantly being approached by people who want to do things, so I’m really just playing things by ear and going where it really moves me. I’m also planning to do more producer-based projects, where I just team-up with one producer to put out an EP or album. I’m also definitely planning to start working on a new solo album before the end of this year. But in the meantime, hopefully this project with Stoupe will come out before the summertime and then there are a couple of other projects in the pipeline that I can’t really speak on. But I’m definitely working, man.”
Follow Supastition on Twitter – @Supastition_NC
Supastition – “Two Weeks Notice” (Supastition.BandCamp.Com / 2014)