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Interview: Blu

A little over five years ago, a still unknown rapper named Blu teamed up with Emanon producer Exile to release his debut album Below the Heavens, a record that captivated the hip-hop world and is still recognized as one of the few modern rap classics. Fueled by his sincere storytelling ability and a certain way with words, the Los Angeles rapper soon became a West Coast legend, landing a spot in XXL’s 2009 Freshman Class, teaming up with esteemed producers like The Alchemist and Madlib, securing a deal with Warner Bros. before defecting back to the more welcoming underground, and delivering two of the most thought-provoking verses on The Roots‘s How I Got Over. Along the way, the mysterious-yet-highly-respected poet and wordsmith also found himself experimenting with a lo-fi and experimental sound, stepping away from the soul-filled boom-bap beats he came up on and tackling work from experimental producers like Flying Lotus.

Despite such a star-studded resumé, Blu has remained much of an enigma for most mainstream audiences, while still becoming one of the most celebrated lyricists of all time, as well as my own all-time favorite rapper. To get a glimpse into his life and his artistry, I spoke to Blu over email and asked him about the many projects he’s currently tackling including the Give Me My Flowers While I Can Still Smell Them release with Exile due out September 4th, the Bombay-produced solo album Good to be Home, and even reflected on Below the Heavens and j e s u s.

First off, you and Exile will be releasing the remastered Give Me My Flowers very soon. How are the studio dynamics between you two nowadays?

Well, we just cut a great tune last week, so great I wish it made the album but it will most likely be on my upcoming solo record. Right now, we are gearing up to hit the road. It’s been a while since we killed the road last and we are looking forward to a chance to do that again.

Below the Heavens recently celebrated its fifth anniversary. How do you feel about it looking back? Do you ever think of revisiting the Below the Heavens sessions? I know you told Complex you had around 75 songs recorded.

Evil politics behind those sessions, I wish I was the me aster behind those masters!

Bombay will be producing your new solo record Good to be Home and I haven’t been able to find much information about him. Can you give us an idea of how the album will sound production-wise?

Dope, phat, like a phat tape, phat soul, big.

What about lyrically? What themes are you aiming for this time around?

Cali man, so much inspiration there; it’s a record mirror the album I ever made called California Soul, an underground tape.

Are you interested in pursuing another record deal with a major in the future?

Yeah possibly, but right now it’s fun running shit down here!

How about those films you were planning on releasing?

Soon, come June.

Your recent single “Kiss the Sky” had a Lupe vocal sample on it and he once called you “the only emcee in the game that scares me.” Have you kept any contact with him? Will we ever see any new material from All City Chess Club or has that project already been abandoned?

Most likely, we talk every now and then but Lupe is killing the electro-rock sound and we killing that lo-fi soul map, so it’s like whenever we get on the same page, we will be definitely making something special. Jesus!

You, Sene, and ANTHM recently teamed up for “Young Leaders”. You’ve worked with both artists individually, is anything else in the works?

Yeah, we got a group called “RakimKRSOne&Chuck” — of course ANTHM is Chuck.

It sounds like you’re extremely busy with new projects right now. Can we expect a full RælBlz project in the future?

Yes, titled GRO produced under the moniker, GODleeBarnes. SD cassette shit!

You’ve also mentioned a new solo record with The Alchemist. Could you speak about that?


Fair enough, what’s your songwriting process like?

I use a pen.

What happened to the No York band?

They fell off, and Todd finally got a girlfriend.

Your father is a reverend and you talk about your views on religion quite often in your music. From “A Man”, it appears you disagree with the institution of organized religion. What do you think needs to change? Do you and your father agree?

No, but yes. He sees me clearly, better than any fan would, coming from a more divine perspective, respectively, and I respect him to the utmost for upholding some high morals and values in Christianity and his faith.

How does the j e s u s LP play into this? Can you explain the “j e s u s” song?

It’s what I felt like telling “Jesus” in 2011 bro. I may make another song to him next year, GOD willing!

What constitutes success to you?


Interview: Rony Seikaly – NBA Star-turned-DJ

In 1988, Rony Seikaly became the Miami Heat’s first ever draft pick when the center was signed ninth overall. Twelve years later, “The Spin Doctor”, as he was lovingly known by fans, hung up his basketball shoes after scoring 9,991 points and grabbing 6,424 rebounds in his NBA career and playing a one-on-one with Magic Johnson to prove that HIV is not contagious by touch. Fast forward to 2012 and now, the Heat have picked up their second ever NBA Championship and Rony is an international DJ and is currently promoting his first ever compilation record with Nervous Records, Nervous Nitelife Presents Rony Seikaly, released on June 5.  A few days ago, I chatted with the former NBA star and DJ sensation about his new career in music, which you can read about below.

I’ve read that you wish to become a well-known musician not because of your basketball career, but because of your music, which is a very humble and grounded mindset to have. I’m just wondering though, has there been any overlap between your music career and your basketball one?

Music was always in my blood. When I played basketball, music was always my sanctuary. I never thought about making music as another career but it happened organically.

Did you ever think the nickname “The Spin Doctor” would extend outside the basketball court?

It’s very ironic but never thought it would.

What was your first exposure to music? Could you tell me more about the “music rooms” in your homes?

My parents were music enthusiasts. They would play classical music, disco and other genres always at the house and my dad would always play his guitar. When I turned 14, I wanted to get my own equipment so I saved up my money and bought two turntables and a mixer at first, then turned a storage area into my own club. All my friends would come and hang out for a nominal fee where I would play the music and with the money made I would upgrade the lights and sound. As the years went by and I started playing in the NBA, I would always turn one of the rooms in my house into a music room and invite friends — only difference was that it was free of charge.

Your music seems to have a very wide spread of influences. What was your favorite era of music and what influenced your sound the most?

I grew up on disco, early hip hop and early house but always had a wide range of musical taste from ethnic, tribal, rock to classical.

What has been your favorite moment in your music career so far? How does that compare to your favorite basketball moment?

Nothing compares to the adrenaline of sports. Music is a hobby, sports is my love. The highlight of my musical career is when I released my first track and thought it was so surreal.

What’s next for you?

I am enjoying the moment. Not looking ahead just yet.

How do you feel about how the way the NBA Finals ended this year?

I have my special ties with the Miami Heat as I was the number 1 pick in that franchise’s history. So it’s very satisfying for me personally to have seen the transformation of the franchise from its inception to champions.

Thanks for taking the time to chat. Best of luck with everything, Rony!

Interview: Emerald Ruins (Producer for Lil B)

From the very start of his solo career, The Pack‘s Lil B has shown impeccable taste in his beats, exposing us to the ethereal soundscapes of Clams Casino and Keyboard Kid. The Based God’s latest beatsmith of choice is the 15 year old Emerald Ruins who hails from the golden coast of California and has a certain knack for creating dreamy beats. “NYU”, the opening track to The Basedprint 2 and a track that Lil B absolutely bodies, comes from the hands of the young producer.

MP3: Lil B – “NYU (Prod. Emerald Ruins)”

Below, you can see my interview with Emerald Ruins. There’s no denying his talent (listen to “Find Out” and “Stay” below) and considering how young he is, there’s no doubt in my mind that he’ll have a long and productive career ahead of him.

You’re 15, correct? When did you start producing and how did you learn?

Yes, I’m 15 years old — think I started producing at around age 13. I don’t really remember what inspired me at the time to want to start making music but it must’ve been something dope, I was a big Ja Rule fan at the time, as was everyone else, so no doubt some heavy influence comes from them. I downloaded the FL Studio demo and shit was a headache, and since I was using the family computer which was in the living room, I couldn’t really be on it too much to play around on it cause someone always needed to use it. So it wasn’t until like 14 that I knew about mixing and mastering and effects and all that producing bullshit that keeps a song from sounding good to sounding amazing. Now, I’ve learned my way around the program and making music is funner because of it.

Where do you find your samples?

I find my samples everywhere man. YouTube, vinyls, forums, cassettes, CD’s, 8-tracks, commercials, toys, outside, anywhere — I hear a dog barking and look up dogs barking on YouTube and add that in my music, I play a video game and hear some spacey ambient shit and look up the soundtrack and sample that. Samples are everywhere mayne.

Is it hard balancing your music with school or are you able to keep both of those worlds fairly separate?

It’s not really hard balancing the two: if you took music away from me I’d probably still be getting the same grades I get, which are mostly C’s.

What’s it like working with Lil B, perhaps one of the most prolific artists currently out?

Working with the Based God man, it’s pretty dope cause now I have that under my “belt,” nahmean? Like if I want to work with someone I can say, “I’ve worked with Lil B,” and that’ll like, increase the chance of them wanting to work with me. Pretty cool.

Are you two working on anything else in the future?

Lil B has told me to keep sending him beats. He gave me his other contact info so he still wants to work with me, which is cool. So yeah, we’re working on some stuff.

Do you think you’ll be able to take a similar route as Clams Casino did after working with Lil B?

I sure hope so, Clams Casino is probably my favorite “new” producer at the moment, hearing rappers over his dreamy-spacey ass shit is like, fresh, you know? Like it’s something different and I really like that, I hope to take the same route Clams did and end up working with some really buzzing up-and-coming artists. Only time will tell I guess.

You’re young — from your perspective, what’s right and what’s wrong in the music industry today?

The music industry, well to be honest, me being as young as I am, I don’t really see much wrong with it other than Pitbull, that cat needs to chill it ain’t funny anymore DALEEEEEEEEE MR 305 WORLDWIDE enough of that shit. Oh and there really isn’t much variety in mainstream radio music, it’s mostly all generic house, but I dig most of it. Overall I think the music industry is fine, I read and hear from many industry artists that the industry is evil and fake and all that but until I experience that myself, it looks like an okay thing to me.

Where do you hope to be in about a year’s time? Are you hoping to turn this into a career someday?

In a year, I hope to have a pretty good following, artists everywhere wanting to work with me, and just you know, being bigger than I am now. That was my goal last year, and now I’m doing interviews like this, working with Lil B, getting my music posted on the Weeknd’s tumblr (which doesn’t exist anymore, sadly), more rappers asking for beats than last year, and basically am bigger than I was last year… so I’ve accomplished last years goal, now to double that this year, we’ll see how it goes, haha.

Anything you want to add?

Not much, thanks for the interview, and to artists: send me a message or tweet or anything if you make good music and want to work with me! Would like to thank everyone who been supporting me and listening to my music, who been sharing my music, giving feedback whether it be positive or negative all feedback is appreciated, thanks to my fam they dope and supportive, everyone who’s been apart of my music all of that, thank you and keep looking out for me and my music! Thanks.

Connect: Tumblr | Twitter | Youtube | Soundcloud

Interview: The Dean’s List

2011 was a whirlwind of a year for hip-hop trio The Dean’s List, who found themselves overwhelmed by all the hype surrounding the release of The Drive In and instant-hits “Dear Professor” and “La Vie”. The trio, who are currently gearing up for their first official album Generation X with aveNUE Music, have been promoting their music heavily ever since, attempting to branch out from the college crowd that was first drawn to their music and spreading a message of youth and rebellion to their listeners. We chopped it up with MC Sonny Shotz and producers DJ Mendoza and Mik Beats, who talked about changes in the music scene since The Dean’s List first came together in 2010, their preparations for April’s Generation X (which will contain no samples and will have a music video accompanying each song), and even their upcoming clothing line.

You guys have come a long way since releasing 2010’s Undeclared. What’s been the biggest change for you guys in terms of your music career?

Definitely the release of The Drive In. That was our breaking point and took us to a new level. The buzz we got off of that, an average artist would get from two to three well-marketed mixtapes.

When we released The Drive In and followed it up with the Pledge To Rage tour we got a sense of the appreciation for the project and really connected with our audience. It’s been a lot more personal ever since.

How did you balance school and music when The Dean’s List really started picking up?

It was definitely late nights and a lot of work. Some of us were still working one or two full time jobs as well. We really had to prioritize things and there were late nights with homework and what not, but it came to the point where we started to make a living off The Dean’s List and that became a priority.

We didn’t feel that the courses we were taking were really teaching us the modern music industry and were learning more on our own so we figured we should go more in that direction.

How hard do you think it is to stand out as an artist nowadays, when anyone can pick up a mic or a computer and start making their own music?

It is definitely really tough. People try hard to emulate an artist they look up and that often leads to copying them. A lot of people lack original material and just become a mimic of their favorite artist. We think you have to listen to a lot of different music and make YOUR music. It’s important to stay true to what you want to do and not be phony or fake.

What are you guys listening to right now?

Right now we are definitely listening to a lot of Florence & The Machine, Kanye & Jay-Z, John Mayer, Jimi Hendrix, classical music, Bob Dylan, The Beatles… and we listen to this type of music because there is more that goes into it and that is what we are looking to develop with our sounds. It’s more evolved than a rapper rapping over a beat.

What’s your favorite Dean’s List song so far?

Mik: I would have to say “La Vie.” I worked really hard on the mix for that, a lot of these techno tracks we can do a lot of production but it’s the mix that really brings it together.

Sonny: My favorite song to date is “The Dream” because it’s the most honest, and a very self-motivating song to me.

Mendoza: I would say “Burn It All” or “Dear Professor,” they have great stories behind them and were big songs for us. They are always great to perform and people recognize the song as soon as it drops.

If your new album Generation X were a person, who would it be?

It would be a hybrid between Will Smith, Steve Jobs and JFK.

Why did you choose to name the album Generation X?

The album Generation X really stemmed from the fact that we had the generation before us and we are a product of them and those that came before them. The melting pot that leads to us.

You guys just recently released “Youth”. How did you guys decide on using that song as the lead single?

It really fits what we are trying to accomplish. A big thing we discuss and stand for is the youth of our generation. Not giving a fuck is a theme of Generation X and this song represents a few sides of that mentality.

Will there be any samples on the new record? “Dear Professor” found a lot of love when it was released.

There will be songs in there that sound like there might be samples but they are actually not. We manipulated things to make them more us. There will be no samples on the album!

I’ve heard that a Dean’s List clothing line is now in the works. Can you provide any details about that and what we can expect to see?

We’re working with a lot of different artists. One of the main ones we’re working with is called Bandulu as well as Mendoza’s grandfather, who is an artist in a New Mexico. We are going to put a stylish twist on our merchandise and not make it just a “band store,” but something that stands alone and makes a statement. The clothes will be something our fans can feel a part of and represents them.

What are your next plans for your music?

There will be a lot of music videos off of Generation X. It’s all about Gen X now! We plan to do a video for every song.

Thanks for taking the time to talk. Any last words?

Thank you for the interview and we appreciate all the support. Follow us on Twitter @followdeanslist and Facebook/itsthedeanslist and Generation X is out on April 3rd!

Interview: Kent State

Today, we take a look at something a little bit different: the psychedelic death pop band Kent State. Almost all of Kent State’s music is available for free on their Bandcamp or on the Paranoidfutures blog, which also contains updates for Doleful Lions, Airlooms, and At The Heart of The World. For a quick sample, you can check out the song “Pains” from Kent State’s split album with Doleful Lions at the very bottom.

Can you first state your name and role in the band?

I’m Nicholas. I play guitar and sing and do just about everything you hear on the recordings.

When and how did Kent State begin?

Kent State began as a side project to my 80’s punk/hardcore band Deep Sleep. My love for Guided By Voices and a friend giving me his dusty four track recorder inspired me to start messing with home recording. After about a month or so I came up with the Spahn Ranch EP and I’ve been writing and recording daily and have released 5 more EP’s. In October, I moved to Los Angeles looking for warm weather and a change of scenery. I’ve teamed up with some friends I’ve met along the way through Deep Sleep and will hopefully be playing live soon.

What is the music scene like in LA and how does that affect you?

I’ve just arrived and have been to a few shows but don’t really know too much about the scene. I’ve already seen some rad stuff that I never would have seen on the East Coast. We are having a blast out here.

What is the meaning behind the name Kent State?

I hope to conjure up dark imagery with the name, lyrics, and mood of the songs in Kent State. The name is referring to the Kent State massacre which occurred May 4th, 1970 at Kent State University.

You have done some split albums with Doleful Lions, Airlooms, and At The Heart of The World. What is your take on split albums and how does it affect the style of the music you produce?

I wanted to release my own stuff and thought I’d start out by doing tapes. I asked some friends who also were doing home recordings to do splits with Kent State. The whole thing snowballed into a three tape set. If you put the Kent State recordings together, you could also consider it our nine song full length. We have them all up separately or together as Past Lives on our bandcamp for free.

How does being more independent affect the production of your music? Would you choose to sign to a record label if you had the opportunity?

I’ve been writing, recording and touring with independent punk and hardcore bands for years. I prefer the D.I.Y approach as I like to have as much creative control with the art and music as possible. After a few months of releasing stuff for free online I decided to make the jump to physical releases, which is what brought about the split tapes with Airlooms, Doleful Lions and At The Heart of The World. There were a few labels who got in touch but they weren’t interested in keeping the music free online so I decided to do the tapes myself.

Will we be seeing some new material coming soon?

I am always working on new stuff and putting free stuff for download on my blog/Bandcamp on all of the time. Hopefully some vinyl by the end of summer.

Interview: Vegas Is North

Recently, it has become increasingly common for the younger generation of musicians to make a name for themselves before they even break the age of 20. About a week ago, I had a chance to talk to Chris of Vegas Is North, who “started the band back in [his] junior year of high school,” and has kept it going ever since, even adding two seventeen year olds to the fold as well.

Can you tell me how long you guys have played music for?

I (Chris) have been playing guitar ever since I was in the sixth grade. I’m nineteen right now. I started the band back in my junior year of high school.

Does being in a band at such a young age affect your career in any way?

It absolutely does, luckily were learning the rights and wrongs at a younger age rather then us being older with more burdens. Our bassist and drummer are both seventeen.

With the many pop-punk bands that currently exist in the scene, how does Vegas Is North stand out?

We are pushing our genre out a little bit more now. We’ve been in the pop-punk scene for awhile now we are expanding our horizons to see where this will take us.

You recently released your new EP I’ll Sleep When I’m Dead. What makes it different from your previously released self-titled EP?

I believe it has a huge difference. Lyrical and musically. I feel I started to learn to write better lyrics and just be a better musician all around.

What was the writing process like for the new EP?

It was me in my room just pouring my heart on to these songs.

Are there any artists that were a big influence on the music in I’ll Sleep When I’m Dead?

I was listening to a lot of earlier 2000 pop-punk bands, like New Found Glory and Blink-182 at the time. They played a huge influence on this EP.

“Parking Lot Kings” has some great lines, what inspired the lyrics on that song?

Honestly just being stuck in a point in your life where you feel like your not going anywhere. Where you just feel stuck.

You guys recently put-out a music video for “Parking Lot Kings”, is this your first music video? If so, what was the experience like?

Yes we did! Which you can watch on Youtube right now! It was awesome and we feel a lot more legit as a band. We’re moving fast, so expect to see a lot of us in the future.

Are you planning to go on any tours to support the new EP?

We are currently working on a tour right now you can stay updated with us on our social websites.

You guys recently announced that you were releasing your single “Savior” on the 17th. What can your fans expect from the new song?

A new us.

Other than “Savior”, can we expect to hear any new material in the near future?

We have been writing non stop, so there will be tons of new music in the future! Stay tuned with us on our Facebook, Twitter, and Youtube!

Interview: Listener

Dan Smith and Chris Nelson are Listener, a talk-music band where Dan does the talking and Chris plays the music. The first time I stumbled upon their music, I was quite confused to what was actually happening. Once I discovered that Dan talking was in fact the music I was greatly intrigued.

Listener is something that will be forever unique and a refreshing take on the power of music in society. The enchanting words of Dan Smith can be soul crushing through both the depth of the lyrics and the passion in his voice. Whether it’s through the soft melody of “Wooden Heart” or the heavy guitar and presence of a trumpet in “These Hands Weren’t Meant For Us”, Listener crafts their music beautifully. Be sure to check out their website, along with my favorite song by them “You have never lived because you have never died”.

First, could you state your name(s) and your band name?

Listener: Dan Smith & Chris Nelson… the band is called Listener.

Is there any meaning behind your band name?

Listener: It’s a word that we all can share in, I guess. (more…)

Interview: The Smith Street Band

The Smith Street Band, who released their debut LP No One Gets Lost Anymore last summer, managed to respond to some questions during their current tour. Their folk punk approach to the music that they create, along with lyrics ranging from themes of melancholy to partying, really make this band distinct. I encourage you to check out their Bandcamp page and download both of their releases. If you own a turntable, you can also purchase the vinyl records of the 7 inch from Jackknife Music and their LP from Poison City Records.You can read the full interview below.

What are your names and what are your roles in the band?

Wil Wagner – Vocals/Guitar, Tom Lawson – Guitar/Vocals, Lee Hartney – Guitar, Michael Fitzgerald – Bass, Chris Cowburn – Drums, Vocals

What is the origin of your band’s name?

We were originally called Wil Wagner and The Smith Street Band, as a take off of Bruce Springsteen and The E Street Band, but changed the name to just the Smith Street Band as the band became more and more of a collaborative effort. (more…)

Interview: Baby Giraffe

As the modern day music scene develops, it’s becoming more and more common for people to self produce all of their music. As we take a look inside the mind of Baby Giraffe, we see how beautifully crafted melodies can lie behind a bedroom door just as often as they do inside of a professional studio. From an independent and unsigned artist, we can also see large differences in their perspective of the music scene.

What is your name and band name?

Baby Giraffe: My name’s Michael and I’ve been recording under the moniker Baby Giraffe since the mid 2000’s.

Can you explain the reasoning to why you chose the name “Baby Giraffe” and what it means to you?

Baby Giraffe: It was a name that was associated with me when sme old roommates of mine were playing a game of “what animal do you look like.” I’m fairly tall, gangly, docile and my hair used to naturally tuft a bit at the top so I figured it was appropriate.

 What is the music scene like in Ontario, Canada?

Baby Giraffe: Being from the largest city in Canada, we have quite an amazing scene. A lot of acts have broke through from here in the last decade in one incarnation or another. It’s important to note that there’s at least a handful of good, accessible venues if you’re not already an established act to build from. Places like the Rancho Relaxo, the Garrison, the Silver Dollar, etc., are all venues you can find some great young artists at. No pay-to-play bullshit, although the city does have some of those promoters as well. (more…)

Interview: Phil The Thrill

My favorite thing about talking to artists is just hearing how humble they really are and how much work they’re putting in to achieve their dreams. Hard work definitely does pay off. So last week, I was extremely fortunate to speak to an up-and-coming rapper from Virginia named Phil The Thrill, who has been releasing an EP a month for the past five months, garnering attention from XXL Magazine and SmokingSection.com. On October 25th, Phil will be concluding the series with a full-length mixtape entitled Barely Awake, which you can preview here.

Check out my full interview with Phil below.

Hey Phil, what’s up? How’s it going?

Phil The Thrill: Good, good, good.

I’ve just been reading about Steve Jobs. Man, that’s terrible.

Phil The Thrill: Crazy, crazy. I mean, they knew it was gonna happen eventually, but it was just all of a sudden it seems like.

Yeah… ah, the man’s a genius. So I hear you’re 22 years old and from Newport News, Virginia, is that correct?

Phil The Thrill: Yessir.

Actually, where have I heard of that place from? Is that…Michael Vick’s hometown?

Phil The Thrill: Yeah, yeah. Michael Vick, Allen Iverson.

Oh, okay. How’s the music scene there?

Phil The Thrill: It’s… pretty scattered. This area is known as Hampton Roads, the 757. I’m not sure how familiar you are with this part of Virginia but Missy‘s from here, Timbaland‘s from here, Pharrell‘s from here,The Clipse are from here. So yeah, we have a pretty crazy rich tradition as far as music goes. It just seems like they’ll move away and you know, it’s hard to really get them back to reach out to artists that are coming up now. But as far as tradition goes, we’re definitely on the map when it comes to music, period. And then 45 minutes up the road is where Trey Songz and Chris Brown are from.

Man, that’s nice.

Phil The Thrill: Yeah, man, it’s crazy.

So where did your rapper name, Phil The Thrill, originate?

Phil The Thrill: It’s actually been a name that’s stuck with me. It’s actually been my nickname since I was around twelve years old. I was an athlete playing basketball and football and you know, when little nicknames happen to you when you’re a kid… they’d just be like “Oh, Phil The Thrill!” It sticks and through high school, when everyone would have AIM screennames, I was like lemme use my nickname. It stuck with me then and when I went on to play college basketball, it stuck with me there. So it became my Twitter name and once it sticks, I’m not going to try to change that just because I’m doing music. It’s my nickname and what people know me as. (more…)