Common “Rewind That” Intro (the recent hype surrounding Bobby Shmurda) Tiffany Gouche “Fantasy” JonWayne “Special Herbs Medley/No” Copywrite & Surock “Trouble” Iman Omari “Take You There” Aria Lanelle “They Dont Know All About Us” Tab-One “Tell Us The Truth” Interlude (Writer Kimberly N Foster’s recent controversial editorial) Sir Michael Rocks feat. Mac Miller & Trinidad James “Lost Boys” Astronote feat. Blu “Rhymes On Paper” Homeboy Sandman “America, The Beautiful” Cormega feat. Raekwon “Honorable” Dave East “F*ck You Think” Ill Stafa “Legacy” Mndsgn “Eggs” Outro (why I dont like Twitter lately)
King – Mister Chameleon Intro Kimbra – Settle Down (Diggs Duke remix) Ea$y Money – Nothin Alike Apathy feat. A. Noyd – Locals Only Your Old Droog – Free Turkey GQ – Cooler MosEL – Everybody Knows (Something) Van Hunt – The Lowest 1 Of My Desires Interlude (critically analyzing Iggy Azalea’s success) Ab-Soul – Dub Sac Malia – Sunny Day OXYxMORON – You Dont Know Le$ – The Hustle Heavy – Summer Song Takuya Kuroda feat. Jose James – Everybody Loves The Sunshine
Matik Estrada – Take A Ride
Fatima – Rain
Boogie – Bitter Raps
Open Mike Eagle – Thirsty Ego Raps/Golden Age Raps
Brandon Dramatic feat. Chill Moody – Cereal Killers
Sha – No More Mecca
Diggs Duke – Sweat Like Sieves
Interlude (Peter Rosenberg’s recent comments about Chuck D)
Jay Cue – Shy
Alex Wiley – Splash Game
Che Grand – Airtight
Hawk House – Vulcan Grip
Moonchild – I’ll Make It Easy
Damani feat. Sid Siriam – Ethiopia/On My Way To Inglewood
Lil B – Only Time I Slow Down
Taylor McFerrin – Florasia
Kev Turner – Wake Up
Your Old Droog – Bad To The Bone/U 47
The Other Guys feat. Tanya Morgan – Blow My Mind
Mayhem Lauren & Buckwild – Cant Fuck Em All
Blue The Misfit feat. Paris Pershun – Another Day
Interlude (Hot 97’s 2014 Summer Jam concert)
Melvin Burch – Whimsickle
Statik Selektah feat. Joey Badass & Freddie Gibbs – Carry On
Castle & Has-Lo – Findalivin/Live Action
Blu – Well Fare (feat. Thurz & Casey Veggies)/Child Support
Levi Watson – Zeal
I initially discovered Open Mike Eagle on a search for new music from the ever reclusive MC Paul Barman. Their collaboration was enough for me to check out 2011’s Rappers Will Die Of Natural Causes, an album I wound up loving because it stretched the possibilities of what rap was supposed to be. In a genre that seeks to confine creativity, Mike Eagle (and his partners in the Hellfyre Crew by extension) refuse any such thing.
Open Mike Eagle has so many interesting things to say on and off the mic, so it’s almost a guarantee no two interviews will be the same. He’s been a guest on Marc Maron’s hugely popular WTF podcast, he’s a semi-regular on Jeff Weiss and (his Hellfyre bretheren) Nocando’s Shots Fired show and you can find a growing array of coverage on him as he continues to build his reputation.
Mostly keeping my questions confined to music (his hailing from Chicago/feelings on the city’s drill scene and history with LA’s Project Blowed have been covered a lot by this point), I spoke with Mike about his newly released LP Dark Comedy, his creative approach and a number of other random things.
Most of your albums are based off of themes, tell me about Dark Comedy.
I don’t know if there’s a theme as much as a tone of laughing at being self-aware and knowing how ridiculous and dark things are around. The way that I seek to deal with things is to write things that I think are funny, so at least half of the album is attempting humor. Some things are honest observations which tend to get a little dark, so those two sides come together to make the record.
A lot of Rappers Will Die Of Natural Causes dealt with the importance of vulnerable black manhood. Tell me about where you were coming from with that album.
A lot of that album was a response to seeing people talk about my first album. I was becoming media literate in terms of how writers and consumers view Hip Hop, their expectations of it and their expectations of black men. A lot of what went into that album were notions I was railing against in terms of what kind of box people tend to want to keep a black man and a rapper in, in terms of what they expect content and image wise.
“Nightmares” was when I became a fan. Was that a catchy attempt to draw new listeners in?
Honestly I just make songs, I have a hard time knowing if one song is standing out over the rest. I just make stuff that I like, luckily when I give it to label people and friends, they’re like “that’s the one right there” (laughs) and we end up pushing those out as singles. I cant say that I was making any attempt to do anything different than usual, I just liked that beat and that was what the beat made me want to do.
Your style can be described as abstract but at the same time very melodic at points. How do you find the balance between the two?
I think it’s a sum of my influences. The Hip Hop I’ve really liked has always been very melodic, and a lot of the emcees I’ve liked have been unafraid to deviate from reality to find things to rap or write about. It’s just naturally where my aesthetic is, it’s not like I’m necessarily trying to do that on purpose, but melody is important to me so I try to make sure that’s in there. Being able to be free with my content is also very important to me, so those values come out in my writing and recording.
“4NML HSPTL” was mostly produced by a guy named Awkward, his name very much fitting the style of that project. What were you going for there and how was it received?
I was trying to make an album that had the narrative of an indie film. I had this whole story in my head about this guy that ends up at a mental hospital that’s specifically for rappers, but I didn’t explain it to much of anybody. I think it caused people to not want to make interpretations on what certain things mean. I wouldn’t say it’s my most well received album, but there’s definitely a lot of people that like it. I think it was a little denser than what people were expecting and I didn’t necessarily help that in not talking about it.
I was seeing a lot of writers, consumers and rappers very influenced by underground music in the late ‘90s and early 2000’s, and as deep as they were into it is how much they try to stay away from it now. They try to act like that time never existed and anything from that time is invalid, bad or weaker somehow. That song was a message to them like “We see you” (laughs), we have the old articles and pictures. It’s the kind of thing I write hoping people will hear that and not do that anymore. It’s not like it’s a message that could change the world, but when I make statements like that I’m hoping maybe we could stop people from feeling that’s the way to go.
On Qualifiers you said “Fuck you if you’re a white man that assumes I speak for black folks/ fuck you if you’re a white man who thinks I cant speak for black folk”. Why was it important for you to make that point?
The reality is both sides of that coin are negative, some people naturally choose one side and then some people think they’re being more sophisticated if they choose the other side. Both sides are wrong, if you look at the dominant culture in the American experience they have this luxury that I haven’t heard described as privilege. If a crazy white person goes out in the middle of the street and shoots up a bunch of people, it’s looked at as just that guy…
If it’s one of us, it’s because it’s our race.
We almost feel like we have to defend it. We feel connected in a way, and I don’t know how much of that is what we naturally bring to the table and how much we’ve been oppressed by perception. We feel like the worst of us represent all of us all the time, we always end up feeling that way. I made that statement with the hopes that one day we can get to a point where that’s not the case, where we can see ourselves just as individual and have the other cultures see us as individual as well.
We share an affinity for MC Paul Barman. Why do you think the black audience struggles to grasp left of center Hip Hop?
I don’t think they struggle, most of the time they’re just not exposed to it honestly. A lot of black consumers of culture do so in kind of a passive fashion, people see what’s on the radio and they aren’t necessarily seekers. I think it’s just a case of them being exposed to less, that’s changing with the youth of this generation because there are more seekers. I think the people who held back Paul getting his just due were white people honestly. I think a lot of white rap fans were uncomfortable with him and they stood in the way of the impact he could have had.
I’ve never played his music for a black person with them enjoying it, they were like “What the hell is this?”
My family likes it. To me, most people who like Doom could like Paul. They don’t rap the same but it’s the emphasis on the writing and wordplay over anything else. Black people would be able to build a bridge that way, but you’d have to be in that door a little bit already.
You have a line where you say “My crew can chew up every dude in your top four”. If you can speak on behalf of Hellfyre Club, how would you describe the crew’s aim or mission statement?
We’re the antidote, we fight the thirst monsters everywhere and we’re knights of the thirst quenching. We’ve figured a lot of stuff out, and as we roll out music it’s do what you will with it.
In Wu-Tang Clan every member had a different purpose or style. How would you describe your place fitting in Hellfyre Club?
I’ve compared it to elements sometimes. When we were on tour, I was like Nocando is fire, Milo is earth, I was water and Busdriver was wind. It’s hard to draw the distinctions for us as real people, we have our own lives and places we differ individually. I might be too deep into it to try categorizing.
I recently heard an interview where you said Midnight Marauders was your favorite Hip Hop album, a sentiment shared by myself and others. What made that album so beloved to you?
I was always into beats first, and even beyond that melodies and chord progressions. The production on that album always carried me away, there was something about what Tip was sampling and how he was doing it with 12 bar loops. The music had all of this movement and life to it, and the cover had everybody on it. I didn’t know it at the time but that was a high point for quasi-positive black things going on in rap that everybody could be involved in.
It was high quality music, I was around 14 and really getting deep into Hip Hop, that album accessed me. I used to fall asleep listening to it and wake up listening to songs on repeat, that relationship came along with that album at that time. It kills me when I think about it because you couldn’t make that record today legally due to sampling, so it’s really of a bygone past.
You’ve also said your favorite Flipmode cat was Lord Have Mercy, why was that?
I just liked his voice and he was a crazy writer, he was a beast on the mic. I still have a bunch of obscure Lord Have Mercy songs. I always liked rappers who I imagined wanted to sound like monsters and his rhymes were super tight.
You shouted out Lil B on “Very Much Money”, I happen to be a fan. What do you make of him?
Sometimes I’m a fan, sometimes I’m not. I think he’s really innovative and he does something special and unique, it’s just not always for me. When it is for me, it’s great. Some songs I’m like “That’s awesome” and some songs I’m like “I cant do this”. For a long time I was nervous to listen because I couldn’t tell if he was being serious or not and I really don’t like being trolled, especially not by rappers.
I don’t like being trolled by music, because the access I give somebody when I listen to them is nothing to be toyed with, I don’t want nobody playing with my head on that level. I stayed away for a long time but I think he’s a unique dude he’s really pushing this thing forward in his own way. He’s very art rap.
Would it be fair to say you’re discontent with the state of black music?
I don’t know, I think a lot of black people make really good music. I don’t know if it’s the state of the music so much as it’s the perception of the music and the delivery system to the music that I have a bigger problem with. If you turn on MTV Jams, there’s still a bunch of videos that look like they were made in 1998 with girls and cars. That’s not everything that’s going on, it’s just everything that’s being shown. I’m discontent with the lack of outlets for alternative visions and voices, they’re not put in a position where people can see them.
As a cultural participant and observer, what would you say is the biggest problem Hip Hop faces in 2014?
The biggest issue is perception. That limits what people expect from the music, what people define it as and what people are willing to invest in it. Ultimately, I want to see rap music respected on the same level as movies. There’s an independent movement with different kinds of voices, right now everything in rap is summer blockbusters in terms of what’s put out there.
There’s this entire arthouse indie movement making really good stuff, and somehow the craft has to be elevated in terms of perception where people understand that this is just as valid. No other genre gets pigeonholed and literally defined by one aspect which is the most popular style. There’s so much room given to other genres of music, let alone other art forms. What’s holding Hip Hop back is the fact that people think it cant be anything other than one thing in terms of mass media culture.
Skyzoo & Torae – The Aura
Usher – Good Kisser
50 Cent – You Know
DP – Jabar
Boaz – Like This
Mac Miller – Here We Go/What Do You Do (feat. Sir Michael Rocks)
Jesse Boykins III – I Wish
Fatima – Do Better
The Celestics – Old News
Casey Veggies feat. BJ The Chicago Kid – Ulterior Motives
Ramaj Eroc – Seasons
Troy Ave feat. Young Lito – My Block
P Blackk – Beautiful/And Then Some (Beautiful Part 2)
Coming up in a time where the underground was purposely brash and pretentious (i.e. some emcees thought making money equated to selling out), J-Live turned Hip Hop on its axis as something new altogether. He made it cool to be smart (boasting “I got Allah’s street knowledge plus a college degree”), he was lyrical while being comprehensible, he was witty and he just seemed to have the time of his life representing the culture with his earliest work.
J-Live’s debut The Best Part featured production from DJ Premier, Prince Paul, Pete Rock and a new at the time 88 Keys. The album was shelved, bootlegged, and finally released in 2001, as he surprisingly bounced back just a year later with the equally potent All Of The Above. Bridging the gap between the ages, J-Live’s True School concept pays respect to his influences while simultaneously remaining relevant making music that feels good in this modern age. On the road promoting his brand new LP Around The Sun, J graciously took time to speak with me regarding his legacy as a veteran who’s still in demand and what it means to represent the Nation Of Gods & Earths (Five Percenters) in Hip Hop, along with other tidbits.
As a bonus I’ve made a mix of 15 songs for newcomers and old fans alike to enjoy. As a long time supporter, it was an honor to speak with one of my favorite acts.
To start, what can people expect from the new album Around The Sun?
The meaning behind it is continued growth. I have a sort of niche and a style and I’m not really trying to deviate from that so much as let it evolve as I grow. They can expect what they’ve expected from the last few albums, really dope Hip Hop, ill flows, I’m dropping jewels along with great beats. It’s just a good album to ride out to and play the whole thing non-stop.
When you came out with The Best Part and All Of The Above, you had so many creative ideas. Where was all of the creative energy coming from at that time?
“Braggin’ Writes” came about because the break was so perfect and there was nothing to do with it. I didn’t want to just loop it so I just decided to go back and forth on double turntables with it. “Stir Of Echoes” was inspired by the movie and just the concept as a whole. “Them That’s Not” was a story that evolved out of an old song, and when the beat switched up like that I wanted to progress like that with the beat.
On this album there’s a couple of moments like that, there’s a song called “Eight Minutes” that’s kind of a play on Doug E. Fresh & Slick Rick’s “The Show “ [“Six minutes Doug E. Fresh, you’re on”], but it’s talking about how the light you’re getting from the sun is eight minutes old. The song “Not Listening” plays on the idea that rappers aint got nothing to say and it’s hard to garner attention, but I wanted to flip it in a creative way that was playful with the crowd and that’s been going great on the road.
As a NBA player progresses, it becomes less about athletic ability and more about knowing the game and trying to win. Jordan’s not dunking all over you as much as he’s killing you with the mid-range, I haven’t been as concerned with inventing a new style as much as polishing mine and making sure the lyrics have that much more weight behind them.
What have the challenges been of going 100% indie with Mortier Music?
I’ve been 100% indie since the whole thing with [my original labels] Payday/London flopped, it’s just that rather than being in association with another label, I’m taking on that role as the label. It’s been a great challenge, I know the ropes pretty well but I’m still building my team as far as people I can depend on and the best practices for the things I like to do along with maintaining a certain schedule to stay on.
With each project life gets in the way. I would have dropped an album every year if not twice a year in some instances, but the last album was in 2011 which seems like eons ago in today’s times. I’m trying to evolve as far as the way the industry evolves. Things are more digital now, the news cycle is a lot shorter, access is a lot greater, applying those ethics into today’s market and atmosphere has been the biggest challenge.
How has would you say Hip Hop and the business changed since the days when you first came out, especially in the internet age?
It’s a double edged sword being that the playing field is a lot more level, but there’s a lot more competition for people’s attention. Coming up, it took so much to make a record, if you wanted to have a DJ spin your breaks at the show, once upon a time you had to press up instrumentals on vinyl or go ahead and make temporary dub plates. If not that, you had to be creative with recreating the production method on stage. Now you got Serato, you can pretty much bounce your instrumental and you’re good to go.
In that same way, people can publish themselves now. They’re not depending on a label like the big and successful labels that have a machine and marketing dollars behind them to stand out. Anybody can do this, but you really gotta do it well if you want to make your mark.
You’re based out of Atlanta now, what is the Hip Hop scene like there compared to your home town of New York?
It’s pretty dope. I’ve lived in Atlanta, Philadelphia and New York and it seems like everywhere I go you can find that niche of indie artists that are doing their thing. It transcends where you are, coming up in New York there were so many different venues like Wetlands, Tramps and S.O.B’s which is still there, fast forward today there’s spots like LPR.
In Atlanta you have a similar kind of vibe where there’s always something going on with likeminded artists. Beyond Hip Hop and music people move to Atlanta whether it economically makes more sense or they have family there already. On the music scene it’s a real cool sample size of the whole country, cats are there from Cali, Detroit, Florida, the Carolinas, Boston and New York. Atlanta’s indie scene doesn’t sound like Atlanta per se, as opposed to being Atlanta Hip Hop it’s Hip Hop in Atlanta.
There’s been a lot of talk in the media recently about the Five Percent Nation. As a member, how did you discover this way of life?
When I was going to college at SUNY Albany, a lot of the brothers that I was getting with were just studying life and that happened to be the culture that we gravitated towards. There were about 16 of us at the time, we say many are called but the chosen are few and about four or five out of that group really stuck with it and adopted this culture as a lifestyle and a philosophy. It’s been great for me, it’s helped me keep my life balanced and in order.
Five Percenter ideologies have been found in your album titles. How does that relate to Around The Sun?
The lessons talk about how fast the planet rotates while it’s revolving. All of the text in my album titles are somewhere in the lessons, from The Best Part where they say the babies are the best part and you take the best part for yourself. All Of The Above is caused by the son of man, fast and pray to see the hereafter [the meaning behind the album title The Hear After].
With Around The Sun, I’m trying to find the phrase or term within the lesson to keep the consistency that reflects what I want the album to be about. The album’s about growth and example of continuing to shine the way you’ve been shining and move the way you’ve been moving. Every time you make it another year, you’re basically taking another trip around the sun.
There have been a ton of Hip Hop acts in the NGE. If you could name a few songs that would explain the culture to an outsider, what would they be?
“Wake Up” by Brand Nubian. “The Ghetto” by Eric B & Rakim. “One to 31” by J-Live because that goes into lessons specifically as it pertains to me individually, there’s a ton of Poor Righteous Teachers stuff and I’d throw some King Sun in there.
How do you personally define knowledge of self?
It’s pretty simple, it’s literally that. If you’re studying yourself, you’re pretty much made of the same stuff as the universe. To know the universe is to know yourself and vice versa, as above so below. Whether you’re talking about an electron circling around or you’re talking about the earth revolving and the sun on its path, or just the way the universe works, you can apply these governing forces of nature to yourself and life around you.
If you can acquire enough knowledge or the right knowledge to get yourself grounded, the peace that comes with that makes you rather formidable in my opinion. Nobody knows you better than you, nobody can tell your story better than you can, the more you know about yourself is the more you accept and understand. You say “I’m not gonna lie to myself or the next man about who I am. I know what I can and cant do, I know what knowledge I can and cant acquire.” It’s really just about getting your shit together and putting your priorities in order so that you can really thrive.
What were your thoughts on Jay-Z rocking the pendant?
I don’t really think much of it. He has the Universal flag on, I don’t really rock gold like that but I have a wooden one [laughs]. If someone sees me rocking it and they do a double take because they saw Jay-Z wearing it, if they want answers about it I’m definitely a credible source. That man can wear what he wants when he wants. As far as somebody having questions for him, the backlash and controversy is because that flag has meant something before he wore it and it’ll mean something after he wears it.
Whether he’s wearing it or not, that doesn’t change the meaning behind the Universal flag, the sun, moon and stars or that 7 and a crescent just because he’s rocking it. Now if he can answer those questions then great, more power to him. But at the very least it might just mean that he’s been influenced by somebody who can answer those questions, and you might want to do the same.
You’ve entered into DJ’ing with your series Hot vs. Dope, what has been the concept behind that?
Hot vs. Dope is just about advocating good music, breaking the barriers and trying to blur the lines between indie and commercial. A lot of times people feel they need to ride for one style of Hip Hop, I come from an era where you would pretty much hear all the different flavors at the same time.
On the late night mix shows like Red Alert and Marley Marl, it wasn’t about just playing trap music, conscious music, gangsta music, West coast or Southern music, it was just about playing dope shit. All of that can be dope or wack depending on how that artist comes off on that one particular song. If you lose those rules and try to unlearn those conditions, you end up exposing yourself to some great stuff.
If you say “I’m willing to listen to an artist I never heard of on a label I never heard of on the off chance that I might like it”, you open your mind up. Part of a DJ’s job is to break records and play not just what you’re dying to hear and what you’re gonna beat him in the head about playing, but to play what you didn’t even know you wanted to hear until you’re moving to it.
What would you say keeps you inspired after all this time?
The fans. If they weren’t clamoring for more music and telling me how the music I’ve made so far has effected them or inspired them to make music or get through life the way I listen to Bob Marley, Stevie Wonder and The Roots, then I probably would have stopped by now. But it’s a beautiful thing to give back the way that something’s been given to you, and Hip Hop shaped and guided my worldview as the soundtrack to my life. The fact that I can do that for somebody else is really what keeps me going.
As a O.G. in the game, Who are you checking for today out of the younger generation?
That’s kind of a blurred line. When you say the younger generation, I’ve been in it so long that you could be talking about Homeboy Sandman even though he’s around my age [laughs], you could be talking about Oddisee even though I’ve been working with him for years. I’m digging what Michael Christmas is doing, I’m checking for TiRon and I actually have a crop of cats that I’m bringing up. One is named Rome Supreme, the other is So Severe, I think people will be pleasantly surprised to hear them once they start to discover them.
That’s my dude right there. That’s what I mean when I say the lines are blurred, he’s been making consistent records since 2009 and people are still just starting to discover him. I’m just trying to help that along. I’m literally walking Rome and So Severe through how it’s done, on some mentorship. With J. Nolan it’s like “I see what you’re doing, let me help you along”, but he’s gonna be great regardless of whether he gets help from me or not.
There’s never been a shortage of dope artists. As far as who I’m checking for I want to throw Masta Ace in there because I grew up on his stuff and not only is he consistently making music, he’s so damn relevant in the now. If you’ve never heard “The Symphony” and he was a brand new artist to you, he’d still hop into your favorites. I got so much respect for him.
Going back to the skits on The Best Part, in 2014 what do you think it takes to be a great MC?
Proliferation. You gotta be prolific, constant and consistently hitting cats. You cant really rest on your laurels at all, you have to push the envelope. The beautiful thing about that question on that album was people took it from different perspectives. Some people were thinking sales and fame, some people were thinking talent and some people were thinking about the live show. Depending on the angle you’re approaching it from, there’s so many different ways to answer that question. I would just say be consistently great, continue to grow and let people see the growth as you do it.