you been lately?
good. I've been on the road a lot and have been doing a lot of press.
Things are going all right.
heard from you since you put out the EP "The Best Part." What
have you been up to since then?
I moved out
to Philly and I've been on the road on a regular basis. I had my son in
'04 and my daughter earlier in '03, my oldest daughter is a few years
a father changed the way you approach your music?
No, not much.
I still do what I do. Before I had kids, I knew what I wanted to do and
right now, I feel that I'm moving along that same path.
you want to give people with "Hear After"?
good record that people can enjoy, showing the different aspects of my
life and how I'm growing. I'm trying to have fun with the music and do
things that have never been done before. I plan my albums out where each
song fits with each other in a certain way. When I was young, I used to
just write verses. Now I feel that I've become a song-writer as well as
learned how to become a good album-writer. I sit and try to plan things
out and make sure the record is complete, has variety, and at the same
time has a sound to it that people can enjoy in one sitting.
a producer as well as an MC, what comes first, the beat of the rhyme?
on the song really. Sometimes the rhyme inspires the beat and sometimes
the beat inspires the rhyme. Sometimes I'll write to a beat and then lay
it over a different beat. I try to lay it out so each song comes out as
best as possible.
you want to make when you produce for yourself?
I came up
in the days where "Low-End Theory" and "Midnight Marauders"
were classic albums. EPMD had a level of consistency too. The snare is
really important. It has to really smack you in the face. You have to
feel the kick and sometimes hear the kick. I basically go for a vibe that
fits the lyrics and then incorporate the drums into that vibe, whether
it's from an MPC or live musicians. Whatever the case may be, I just try
to make sure the drums fit the song. Sometimes the songs don't require
the boom-bap. Sometimes it's just an 808 and rim-shot. I just try to have
really high quality songs, because the first thing you think about when
you think of me as an artist is that I'm underground. Underground really
means low-budget, grassroots, and doing more with less. What's more important
to me is that sonically, my records sound clear and loud, and it's good
in terms of quality.
is live instrumentation to your music?
call it important as much as it's good to have. It's not vital in the
sense where we couldn't just hammer something out on the MPC. It's good
to have that variety where somebody has the freedom to put into their
instrument what you put into your mic. A sample is a sample that you can
twist around, but to have a live musician, it's almost as if they're playing
to your lyrics. Sometimes the sample can have the same effect. It's a
treat and it's definitely a part of music. It's becoming more and more
a part of Hip Hop as the music evolves, and it's good to have more resources
ever see yourself branching out into other genres of music?
I heard Dionne
Farris say that the genre of music is sort of like a vessel. Music itself,
it transcends genres if it's good music. I've drawn inspiration from jazz
musicians, reggae artists
I do what comes naturally and let people
categorize it as they will. This album has a very strong Latin vibe. Songs
on the last album were heavier in jazz and reggae influences. I rap, and
to me it's Hip Hop. Sometimes you have rock artists that'll rap on a rock
record. I love rapping because I love Hip Hop, and that's what I do. There
might be some sort of fusion, but Hip Hop is the root of what I've done
and what I've come up out of, so that will always be the foundation of
my music. If it branches out and it's classified as something else, it'll
still have that history of being based on my upbringing in Hip Hop.
of categorizations, it seems as though ever since "Satisfied"
came out, you've been labeled as a "conscious MC." Do you consider
yourself a "conscious MC?"
I think I'm
a conscious individual, and I MC. I think it's very astute of you to associate
that term with a song like "Satisfied," because you don't really
hear too much about that. With press on "The Best Part," it
was that I'm doing something and I didn't get much light. For press on
"All of the Above," that label came up. Any kind of pigeonhole
that you're put into will have a positive and negative effect. The label
allows people to easily identify with you, but if you don't identify with
the label, you shy away from it. You hit the nail on the head where "Satisfied"
put me in that niche. At the same time, there were songs like "Vampire
Hunter," "Rage," and "Timeless." There's more
to me than just that, and each album has shown that sort of diversity.
I just try to spread myself out to where it's not always about one thing.
I've been a 5-percenter for the past nine years, but I don't try to drill
that point home throughout the album. I may allude to it or make reference
to it, and it permeates through the points I want to get across, but I
don't beat people over the head with it. Each song is not about one particular
thing. If it wasn't for that label, certain people may not have been drawn
to me. At the same time, I can't allow labels that people make for me
to limit me, whether it's "conscious," "underground,"
"East Coast," or "purist." They may be true to a degree,
but it is not inclusive as to who I am as an artist.
to teach as well, do you see yourself going back?
Yeah, I have
to go back and get my Master's. Right now, I'm trying to focus on my music
and build a discography that has a lot of quality albums behind it. I
have three albums and an EP. Doing a full-length every three years is
just the beginning. In the next five years, I'd like to look back and
have four or five albums under my belt. Right now, I'm very, very focused
on making music and having fun with it, and raising my family off of my
of people may not even realize how far back you go. Do you feel that you
get the respect you deserve?
people that know me, yeah. It's only a matter of time before my music
is exposed to more people than I can shake a stick at. I feel that I have
real high-quality fans and they compare me to artists that others who
love those artists have never heard of me. I think that's a testament
to what I've accomplished in building my fan base and being able to influence
people to hear my music and be one of the albums of the year. I've definitely
gained a lot of respect and notoriety around the world. I never expected
it to be like this.
pinpoint that one moment when you knew you were going to do Hip Hop and
take it seriously?
a video shoot with De La Soul and then there was a jam session with the
Roots at the Knitting Factory. I met a lot of artists that I respected,
and a lot of them were familiar with my music. It was a time when "Longevity'
and "Bragging Writes" had been getting out. I had put the music
out to the world, but it didn't hit me that the world had received it
as well as they did. Lord Jamar, I.N.I, The Jungle Brothers, and The Roots
and their mom was at The Knitting Factory and I got up there to spit,
and the crowd received me like they knew me. I thought I would just be
some dude spitting a 16 and would walk away unnoticed. They were looking
forward to hearing me before I got on. That was one of the moments when
I knew I had an effect on what was going on and I could be successful
and make my mark.
it like being on the Stretch and Bobbito show?
When I was
on Stretch and Bob, the fans would sell tapes of the show. It was a really,
really big thing back then and to get love from them and from WNYU back
then with Eclipse and Mayhem, and Hard Core Righteousness at City College,
that was really where I got my mark and experience on the radio. Then
I would go out and meet the original DJ's on the West Coast and other
spots, this is around the time when promotional copies of "The Score"
were circulating. I opened up for The Fugees at my school. Coming up when
I did definitely had it's advantages because the independent scene has
grown exponentially over the years. For somebody to establish themselves
now, it's a real feat.
is the live show to you?
it's part of my name, it's pretty damn important. DJ's respect it. We
put a lot of effort into making sure that our show runs like a party.
When Flow-Fader is spinning and I'm getting my drink on, every record
he plays is an "oh, shit!" record. When we perform, we try to
make sure every song we play is a record like that. I'll juggle when I
do "Bragging Writes." It's important to have that show beause
that's our chance to give back to the people that have appreciated my
records and music, and you can't do that unless you bring 100% and leave
it all on the stage.
your favorite thing to do, producing, DJ'ing, or MC'ing?
thing is to cut a record that I produced and rhymed over! (laughs) All
jokes aside, it's probably rhyming. Rhyming is more cost-efficient that
anything because you don't need to buy records or equipment or clear samples.
You just have to have a pad and a pen and spit. DJ's and producers makes
the beats and plays the beats, but the MC gets their message out. That's
paramount to me. I love having people quote the lines. I want my lines
to really hit home.
for "Hear After" has been real good in that regard. I just tried
to elevate production-wise and make it so people see how different it
is. I got a lot of flack for "The Best Part" because it was
so different from "All of the Above." I'm getting a lot of flack
on this album because it's sort of a departure from "All of the Above"
as well because there's not as much jazz in it. I wanted to get really
deep into the lyrics and concepts. From a craftsmanship standpoint, this
album is just as advanced. People that are happy with the record see it
as elevation and others want that same sound from "All of the Above,"
but I can't do that.
you make sure you keep progressing as an artist?
I write for
awhile, and then I'll stop for a little while, and then when I go back
to it, I'll feel like I made a jump or skipped a grade where it's not
popping anymore. Maybe I won't want to kick rhymes from that book because
I've changed my mind. I've grown as an artist and person, and looking
back on my old music is like looking at old photographs, like, "I
can't believe I had that flattop and wore that shirt!" As long as
I feel that I'm moving ahead and that people can still appreciate my old
albums, I'm doing all right.
you tell kids today that want to have a career in Hip Hop?
and be yourself, and don't depend on it. I can't stop because I've come
so far. Before I made my mark and before it got to a point where if I
stopped, people would have something to remember, before I reached that
point, I was always thinking that couldn't be the only way I make my living.
I went to school and got my degree. For me, it really came through because
I set it up for my first album to come out right after I graduated. I
had things in place and my budget was dealt with. I used my budget to
pay for my last year of college. I traveled a lot when I was in school
and was doing shows on the weekends and holidays. If things fell through,
I was prepared and I had that option where I could say, "I want to
go teach the babies and I want to have an influence in an area where I
may only be able to get a job where more qualified and more experienced
teachers don't want to be there." At the same time, we need to be
there because of our similar circumstances with the kids and our connection
with music. I wouldn't have been able to do that if I had cut out after
my second year and said I was going to tour the world and come back to
school later. If the first single hadn't have sold 13,000 in 1995, it
wouldn't have made a difference.
next for you?
to develop my sound as a producer. I feel that I've become good in terms
of sonically making sure my records are clear and loud, but I want to
show more of a certain style because I've been experimenting for so long.
It's been five years of beat-making for me. I want to branch out and work
with other artists and show other artists' my ideas. I also want to work
with new artists and artists I've looked up to over the years.
I also want
to establish myself as a DJ. I feel that people only see me as a DJ from
"Bragging Writes." I have to get my mixtapes back up and start
doing parties again. I have a real passion for rocking the crowd. As a
DJ, I feel that I have an important role to play in terms of breaking
artists and setting trends. A lot of the elders complain that DJ's now
are really just focused on exclusives and are push-button dudes that don't
apply any skills or ethics or creativity to what they're doing. I want
to mix the underground with the commercial so that the purists can see
that you can't just hate on a record because it's on a major-label or
the last album went platinum, and to show the other side that you can't
just hate on a record because you haven't heard of the artist. I just
have to bridge that gap. I can't let that side of me fall by the wayside
because I'm so focused on my music.
you want to say to everyone out there?
I just want
to say thanks for the support and for the compliments and the criticisms.
I'm happiest at the fact that somebody's listening. I'm just real happy
that people are influenced by my music and inspired to create and a lot
of people come up to me and tell me to keep doing what I'm doing, and
that inspires me to write. A lot of people tell me that my music helps
them in times of severe adversity in the same way that Bob Marley. Stevie
Wonder, Sade, KRS, Public Enemy, and Brand Nubian helped me. To have that
sort of influence like how I've been influenced, I just want to thank
them for that because that's what keeps me going.