(Pictured L to R: Aeon, Von Pea)
Im not playing the hipster tastemaker card, but I was one of the first people to harshly critique Von Pea’s earliest demos that you probably cant find anywhere online (for the record, they’re still better than anything on the radio today. If you can, go seek out “Shuttapenlissen”, “Boom Bip”, “The Words & Why” and the “Just Call Me” remix featuring a much less famous at the time Phonte. Im not looking for these songs and posting them, I heard them and they’re probably on less than a hundred people’s computers somewhere). Im not playing the “look at me name drop famous people Im cool with” card either, but facts are facts: Von Pea & I dated/hollered at/whatever you want to call it blood sisters before we ever met, THEN years later dated sorority sisters without even knowing it, my name is in the credits of Tanya Morgan’s out of print debut “Moonlighting” and I gave the group some of their earliest press ever (DISREGARD HOW I WACK I WAS AS A WRITER IN 2005, THANK YOU). Suffice to say we’ve all come a long way since then, here’s us rapping on his latest project Duly Noted, produced by another comrade of mine Aeon. If you’re reading this you should know Von Pea & Tanya Morgan’s legacy by now, educate yourself if not.
Your new EP Duly Noted seems like one of your post personal projects to date. You spoke about everything from gentrification to things you were going through, and it seemed like you needed this project to vent. Where were you creatively at the time of making it?
It’s funny because I was coming off of one of the best tours [Tanya Morgan has] been on last summer with The Hood Internet and Psalm One, everything was laid out from the hotels to money being good. Heading home things weren’t dark and dreary but for whatever reason I still had certain things on my mind, so I started writing and recording the project. I wasn’t even necessarily in a somber mood while doing it but when I started writing it, that was what came out. I felt like I was at a psychiatrist [laughs], I tapped into something. I started it when it was still nice outside, it wasn’t dark in the winter time yet, but that came out and I guess it just kind of happened on its own. There were certain parts where I wanted to say something because I knew what that mood was even if I wasn’t in that mood at the moment.
I had friends and members of my crew going through things and I wanted to tap into that because I’ve been there and I probably will be there again. Everybody has their days, so I wanted to capture that because there were things I had never said and I didn’t want to be in character or doing a concept album like I normally would do. I started playing it for people and so many people were like “This is how I’m feeling right now” but not in a somber way, more of an excited way like “Yeah I’m feeling sad too!” [laughs]. That was weird but it worked out, I hope people don’t hear it and think I’m just walking around with a cloud over my head but this is that project. Pea’s Gotta Have It was more of a concept and everything else has been a concept like The Further Adventures Of Von Pea with me rhyming over Madlib beats. This was the first time I got to channel who I am, at least up to the end of last year.
Aeon was responsible for the whole project and you two have worked together a lot in the past. Tell me about your history with him and why you chose to do the whole thing with him.
I met Aeon in Philly years ago at a performance of mine and then again at the very first Donuts Are Forever party in Brooklyn. I knew he was doing music, but I hadn’t worked with him yet, he gave me a beat tape and that had “Boombox”, “I Know We’re Right”, “Good Life” , “There You Were”, most of what he produced on Pea’s Gotta Have It. I played that tape like an hour and I was like “Man, this dude is crazy.” The same way I did Duly Noted, I made a few demo songs and sent it to him, crossing my fingers that he wouldn’t think it was wack. He told me to go with what I had, we started working and although Pea’s Gotta Have It came out in 2010, we started on it on 2007. I think [Tanya Morgan’s] “Walk This Way” was the very first song he produced, all these songs got done in that same year. That started the working relationship with him and [Lessondary crew members] Spec Boogie, Che Grand and all of us in general.
It took so long to put Pea’s Gotta Have It out because we had to get Tanya Morgan rolling again before we could put out solo material, so those songs sat around for three years. After that, I toyed with the idea of doing another project where he would do the whole thing as a companion piece to Pea’s Gotta Have It, but the problem was I didn’t want to still do the high school concept, there was nowhere else to go with that. That started this idea up and it became what it is, we have other things done that will hopefully end up on the Lessondary album or something like that. The next Tanya Morgan album is Rubber Souls produced by 6th Sense, but we have another album called You Get What You Pay For and Aeon has demos on that.
We haven’t received a full length Tanya Morgan project since 2009. What’s the present state of Tanya Morgan with everything you’ve been through over the past few years.
It’s a shame because we came out and people would try to dis us saying “Yall are just a fake Little Brother” and we did end up losing a member [laughs]. Now it’s two of us, and we’ve gone on to make music as a duo the same way Pooh and Phonte did. In 2010 we went to Europe for the first time, Ilyas had been thinking about his position in the group and what he wanted to do in the future. I had kind of brushed it off like it wasn’t serious when he was thinking of doing his own thing, I just left it alone. He wasn’t able to go on the Europe trip and he sent an email like “I hope yall are out there killing it, by the way Im still thinking about doing my own thing”. I think there was a lack of communication and by the time we got back from Europe I think in his mind it was like he was out of the group.
There was a small argument but it was never anything big like “fuck you forever”, we went to Cincinnati and sat down with him, got drunk and said “Let’s do this last show as the three of us, the first show we did was in New York, let’s do this last show for now in Cincinnati”. We did that last show and Ilyas was going to start a band but he does a lot of film and to my knowledge he’s getting paid, so I aint mad at that. He’s working on an album now and Im waiting to be on it, I know Im talking about a million projects but I have a forthcoming album that the three of us are on so it’s all good. We did like five demos for the Lessondary album, so Ilyas is still working as a member of the crew but Tanya Morgan is just me and Donwill now. Me and Don are running with it and we’ve had to start over, we don’t want it to be the same thing minus one member. The new album Rubber Souls will be out this summer, it’s a little different, not like Brooklynati 2 or Moonlighting 2, it’s this whole other thing. Ilyas’ album is Live From Ohio.
You mention the struggles of being an independent Hip Hop artist in your music. What is it that inspires you to keep going?
I know this sounds corny, but I just love the craft of it still. I love writing and the idea that I can come up with this sentence that’s seven words and find a way to rhyme word number four with number one, or the seventh word with the next line. I still have fun being creative. Someone who heard Duly Noted said they can tell I’m having fun writing, I feel like I’m still learning how to do new things and express myself in different ways. I couldn’t have written a song like “Nip Slip” before, there’s a line where I say “This isn’t a tale, we didn’t end up related” referencing “First Date”, a song I did with Nicolay a few years ago. There’s a lot of subtle and underlying stuff going on that I may not say directly on a song like “Nip Slip”, points that people can relate to like being around uppity folks. If you’re a person from the hood somebody might look at you a certain way because of how you talk, they’ll feel like they’re above you if they’re from a different class. That’s one thing I mention, and then at the end I send a jab at rappers without sending a jab at rappers. I feel like I couldn’t have done that years ago, it’s not double meanings and hidden words, it’s simply within a story. On a song like “Alone”, it’s not just a whole lot of punchlines, I’m just writing and declaring stuff, in my opinion the fun I had writing that comes through.
[Rappers] get caught up in one goal like “Man, I should be at the Fader Fort at SXSW, why am I not on that stage? Why didn’t MTV say I’m the best MC? Why they like Kendrick Lamar and Trinidad James instead of me?” Nigga you didn’t start rapping so people would like you instead of Trinidad James, you started rapping because you wanted to be nice [laughs]. I try not to get caught up in the reindeer games feeling like this person has something that I should have, and that I can make beats too so I should have had a beat on so and so’s album. You keep doing what you do and if your goal is to have a car or whatever, nigga get a job and save up to get a car. Otherwise you’re gonna end up playing yourself trying to sound like somebody else and then when nobody likes your fake hit record, then what? You tried to be like somebody else and it didn’t work, now you just made a bad song that didn’t work and you have nothing. [The alternative is being] the dude that’s making the dope “backpack” song that people actually like. Your song’s not on 106 & Park or whatever, but you knew that when you were making it [laughs]. That’s where I’m at with it, I just want to be me and you never know, one day if it ends up in a situation like DOOM where him just being him became popular, so be it. But making fake shit where people know for a fact that’s not you, no one is gonna say “This pop attempt from this underground guy was actually dope.”
Or you could find a way to do your thing and put a crossover spin on it as long as it doesn’t sound wack, like Donwill’s “Love Junkie” remix which is crazy.
That’s the funny thing, at this point in life that kind of stuff is probably more him than a Duly Noted. He’s just getting into DJ’ing and I’m helping him learn to spin, it’s not like he’s trying to be on some hipster shit, he’ll play dance music from the ’90s and then he’ll play some of the updated stuff like Wallpaper or whatever. That’s what he messes with and if he could sing he would be singing right now, and then we’d *really* be Little Brother, it’s just neither one of us can sing [laughs]. That song came out and worked out so well because that’s really him, if I would have done that it probably would have been like “What the hell is this?” because that’s not necessarily me.
On Duly Noted you threw a few shots at critics and today’s state of music journalism. What are your feelings on that?
The funny part about that stuff is for the most part [Tanya Morgan has] been critical darlings, nobody has really dissed us except Byron Crawford but we laughed at that article, he disses everybody. What I was saying was more from me being a fan, reading stuff they say about other people. Instead of leaving a comment online about somebody’s joint, I’ll throw it in a rhyme, but nobody asked you what you thought about Kendrick’s album or Blu. I feel like when somebody’s writing a review it should be informal rather than saying something trying to get a rise out of people or comments. A lot of times you’ll read a review and they’re just trying to troll as opposed to a person who’s just being informative. It’s fine when you don’t like stuff, I’ve read reviews of Pea’s Gotta Have It where they weren’t feeling certain songs and that’s cool, but sometimes things happen like Pitchfork giving Childish Gambino a 1.6 and you’re clearly trying to rile people up instead of doing a good review. Pitchfork does good reviews other times, but stuff like that is doing stuff to get attention, instead of caring about what you’re listening to you’re caring about your blog hits.
No matter how wack it is, somebody took the time to put it together and tell whatever story they’re trying to tell and you just decide to do something cute [with your review], I feel like that’s detrimental. I appreciate all the good things critics have said and them just talking about my music in general, but I don’t believe all press is good press. If you really don’t like it that’s fine, but if you just want to get people tweeting, that’s a waste of time in my opinion. It’s not like we’re a buzz worthy group that people are going to click on a million times, I know exactly where we stand but as a fan of music and journalism, if Kanye West tweeted today there will be a two paragraph article about it. It’s like you don’t even care, you’re just doing this to get hits real quick. I feel like that’s just as bad as when 20 rappers throw out a Valentine’s Day freestyle and 50 rappers rap over “Started From The Bottom.” There’s a lot of good that’s out there and then there’s just stuff that’s in the way, if Beyonce puts up a new Instagram picture there doesn’t need to be a 10 page article about it, because there’s not much to say. I’d rather you try to get to her and talk to her instead of just saying “Look at the shoes she has on, here’s two paragraphs about the shoes”, but I guess I’m just bring crotchety [laughs].
Duly Noted ends with you recreating a scene from The Wire where Randy asks “You gonna look out for me?” Was that throwing shots at anyone?
I was watching that season the week I was recording the album, and it definitely wasn’t throwing shots at fans which is an idea we’ll probably have to deal with in the future when we put out the You Get What You Pay For project. On this album I say “It’s not about buying it, it’s about alliances”. I don’t feel like if you don’t give me $50 on Kickstarter then you don’t mess with me, just keep checking for me. Donwill thought I was talking about our old label when I said that [laughs], really it’s just an open statement to anybody that says they support me in any way, not necessarily financially. As a fan you don’t owe me anything, all I do is make music and hopefully if somebody wants to spend $7 on it, that’s what’s up and if not I’m just happy people are listening. I know that sounds like the fake humble route but from day one I’ve just been happy people are listening. On my brokest day if somebody hits me up and says they just downloaded it, I appreciate it to this day.
It was just an open statement to life in general. I could be talking to my father when I say that, or someone who says they’ll get the album next week and they don’t, or a chick who says she’ll call tomorrow. It was for dramatic effect, but it does mean the same thing it did in The Wire, the kid was sitting there at his lowest point and while I wasn’t sitting in the booth going through hell, it was done to make the song better. That wasn’t aimed at anybody directly, I’m not the guy that turns the music off at a performance like “Yall aint making no noise! [laughs]”
What do you consider Von Pea & Tanya Morgan’s place within rap at this time going forward?
Right now we’re like that trusty reliable throwback Hip Hop group for people, at least that’s what I’ve read about us. If you hear Tanya Morgan is coming out with something, you know it’s probably gonna be something decent that isn’t generic, there’s gonna be some good boom-bap shit for lack of a better term. But when it’s all said and done I would love to get to a point where people say “Tanya Morgan left an entertaining ass trail behind them” regarding whatever we end up doing. Whether it’s Don doing his comedy stuff now, Ilyas doing his film thing and me doing more production and dropping 10 more albums or whatever happens, I just want people to say “Them motherfuckers are entertaining”. Hopefully we can step away from always being called boom-bap or whatever [laughs], because people always assume you’re gonna be the dude that turns the music off at the show to tell people put their hands up because it’s real Hip Hop. We don’t do that, when it’s all said and done I want people to be like “Them niggas is entertaining.” Whatever it is, I want people to be entertained by it.