- Thu, 2011-11-17 11:55
Since their first release in 1996, Rhymesayers Entertainment have built a strong reputation for producing, supporting and releasing quality, independent hip hop. Ahead of the first night of the first ever Rhymesayers label tour, I Like Music headed backstage at the Electric Ballroom in London to chat to label founder and MC of one of the biggest selling Rhymesayers outfits, Atmosphere.
ILM: How are things? Happy to be in London?
Slug: Yeah happy to be in London! I like coming here. Things are good. We’re in Camden this time and I’ve never stayed in Camden before. I’ve played a show here, but this is my first time sleeping here which is convenient, since we’re playing here and we have a hotel around the corner. But the area last night was interesting…seeing how many people go outside to look at these weird little shops that sell the same t-shirts in every shop. It’s just weird. It reminded me of mid-town Manhattan in a certain way, this is all about selling shit. Everything out here is about selling shit. And none of it is made by the guy selling it to you. Sometimes with street vending you get a guy selling bracelets that he forced his kids to make, you know what I mean? Whereas here you guys all buy the same shit from the same supplier and sell it for the same prices.... A couple of record vendors looked interesting and a whole bunch of restaurants seemed interesting. Then we walked way down the street we saw statues of two big cats, not lions, not tigers, just house cats. Big statues in front of the Camden Business Centre or some shit like that. I don’t know why I’m telling you about this. I don’t have anything else cool to talk about. Happy to be here though! To do another show… to eat eggs and beans and to, er...try and go home with as much of your place as possible.
ILM: It's the first ever European tour for Rhymesayers...
Slug: As a label yeah. As Atmosphere we’ve toured Europe a bunch of times but as a label to be able to come over with this many of our artists… it’s going to be a lot of fun. Or it’ll be really messy, we’ll see what happens. I don’t wanna get beat up by Grieves, you know what I mean? That would really sour the whole event for me.
ILM: What do you look forward to most about getting up on stage? What is it that drives you to perform?
Slug: I guess I just like the different zones and phases that you go through as a performer. The different jitters, the nervousness and the adrenaline, then the little moments of cool-down time. It's kind of like taking a hallucinogen without the actual hallucinating. There are certain times with hallucinogens where you get these moods and these places where you physically become affected by the surroundings in such a way, more so than just your standard stresses or pleasures. Performing kind of does something similar to that where you get to go through these phases of moods. I don’t know… I like the trip! I like it. It’s my favourite drug.
ILM: Rhymesayers as a label has come a really long way since the first days. It's always stayed completely true to being independent, in terms of supporting, producing and creating great hip hop music. As a forefather of that, would you say that the ethos of the label is still the same today as it was right back when you started?
Slug: I guess it depends on the perspectives you know? Standing here, who I am in 2011, looking back on it in hindsight, which is always very clear, I feel like we’ve done a great job of sticking to the ethos of presenting music we believe in to people. Finding other artists that we feel speak a similar language and presenting this feeling and this movement to young people. However, if you had asked me when I was 25 to look at Rhymesayers where Rhymesayers is right now, then asked me what I thought, I’d probably have been like ‘those guys are all fucking sell-outs.' Like no! They're too big and you can hear their stuff on mtvU, online, Carharrt is sponsoring this tour and all those types of things. I'd probably be more judgmental as a younger person whose identity was based on underground. As an older person with more perspective, I look and I see underground not as an identity but as a state of or statement, or a concept, or a truth. As a younger person it was what made me, now it’s what I make. I guess that’s the difference.
When I was younger underground made me who I was, now that I’m older and I’ve been doing this for a while I realise no, I along with other people, help make underground what it is, you know what I mean? Instead of letting it own you, you have to own it. I’m going a long way right now to say something really simple. I guess what I’m saying is, I do feel like we did a great job of giving our all to this, to the point where it still can be held by the next kid who is supposed to see their identity in it. We can hand it off to the next people and still have it in-tact and be something they can mess with and create whatever it is that they are going to for the next 15 years.
I by no means feel like I’m owed this. You could take it from me tomorrow and I'd have to be like ‘well, you let me play with it for as long as I could and now it's yours again.’ I don’t feel entitled to it like I did when I was a kid. When I was a kid it was more judgmental and opinionated. It had to be because I was testing myself, you know? I was making sure I wasn’t going to fall off of this rock. Now I’ve been on the rock for a while I’m like ‘this is cool. I like what we did’. It was a lot friendlier than I anticipated it to be. As a youth I thought this was going to be more like ‘don’t trust anybody, struggle through it.’ Now that I've gotten through it I’m like all those people that I used to be like ‘fuck the major labels, fuck this and that’… I met a lot of those people and a lot of them were just normal people that like music a lot and dedicated their life to it somehow, maybe differently than me. I don’t know if that answers your question!
ILM: Well that leads nicely on to what I was going to ask you next… for all the people that look up to you as an artist, all those young musicians, what would be your advice to them? Having come through that...
Slug: The thing that I’ve learnt is only you, really, at the end of the day get to clarify for yourself what it is that you're doing. Nobody else comes along and gives you a title and says 'you are this' or 'you have done this.' Always own the title and don’t let the title own you. I guess in a weird way that’s kind of what I was saying before about being this independent artist, anti-corporate, all these titles that I used to let own us, we slowly turned around and owned them. I think that if you can do that, you’ll not only be happy with what your doing, but you’ll be happier when you turn around and look at the road that you’ve walked. You can look at that road and have a relationship with that road that is beneficial to you, you don't have to look back with regrets. You can look back and embrace the things that got you to where you are.
We never took the quick jump. We stuck to what we knew and we stuck to what we did and we took the slow, slow build. With that slow build I can always turn around and see where I was standing yesterday and the day before, and the day before. I’m not detached from my trail, I’m not detached from the path. I mean I’m older, so my priorities have changed. So instead of trying to get drunk and stoned and chase after pretty girls, now I would just rather find a nice, clean place to poop.
ILM: Very sensible. Obviously this tour isn’t just made up of Atmosphere. I wondered if you could tell us what it is about the music of Evidence, Blueprint, Brother Ali and Grieves and Budo that you respect and love?
Slug: Evidence, I’ve always been a fan of him. What they did with Dilated Peoples really, in a big way, helped clear a path for a lot of us. The headway they made as a true underground pioneer hip hop movement that they were. They did justice to the West-coast, the East-coast and the mid-West in our country. You don’t really have a lot of groups that get to do that. Dilated Peoples was able to speak to the whole country in a way that a lot of youth were ready to hear, because we were all looking for it, looking for a way to not have to do the flashy video thing. Just stick to the subway graffiti hip hop, gangstarr way, you know what I mean. Dilated Peoples really cleared a wide open path that was there for all of us to start walking down. So to be able to work with Evidence in this manner, as an artist to another artist… you know, we hop on tours together, that’s a huge deal to me. To be able to go side by side with that dude, that’s a lot to me. And I’m very happy to have put out his most recent record as well. I really like that record a lot, I speak to everybody about how much I like that album.
Brother Ali is just an old friend of mine from my city. I’ve worked with him so much in the past. I’ve known him for so long, it's like family. My kids love him and his kids love me, it’s a family thing. So it’s always a real pleasure to travel with him. Especially to do overseas stuff with him. Sometimes overseas you need people around you who know your core, you know? I can’t always get my kid on the phone when I want to because of the time difference. You miss so much about home that having a few people around you that remind you of home is... kinda cheating...but it's good!
Then Blueprint, I'm a huge fan of him as a human being! I’ve been touring with that dude since 2000 and we met in Scribblejam in the 90’s and have been good friends for so long. Kind of like Ali, he’s like family to me too. And I’m the best hype-man he’s ever had! I used to do the back up vocals for his songs. If you talk to him tell him I said that… tell him he’s never had a better hype-man than me.
Then Grieves and Budo, I’m really proud of those guys. You know, hip hop has become increasingly hard for news artists to break in and get that kind of respect that I see veterans get and Grieves and Budo are getting the kind of attention and respect I see veterans get. So I’ve got a huge amount of pride in what they’re doing right now and their project. They feel like cousins! Everybody’s family to me though. At least that’s how I try to see it all. Even the people that I don’t get along with in this world, because there's some people in this world that I don’t get along with...I just try to see them as drunk uncles and shit!
ILM: What have you been listening to recently?
Slug: Only Build For Cuban Linx by Raekwon, Wheel Variations, the second Foo Fighters record - the one with the tattoo on the back of his neck. Radio Moscow, have you heard them? It's like punk-blues. The Evidence record...and, um..I’m sure there's more but I’m blanking out.