We attended the Atmosphere show in Brussels last Fall with you as the opening gig. You definitely have the ability to turn people that don’t know you into fans…
As an opener, you're performing for people who mostly don't know you. Holding their attention, and turning them into fans, requires a particular set of skills. I'm the Liam Neeson of this hip-hop opener shit. You need to introduce people to your material. But you also need to entertain people and sort of break the ice for the evening. That's your role, as it pertains to the flow of the evening. It doesn't matter how good your songs are. If you can't fulfil that role, people will just ignore you and wait for the person they came to see.
Like a dance contest?
It is one of those ice breaker things. I cover an LL Cool J song during it. It's not about my material. It's about letting the crowd know we're going to have fun tonight and making something unique and special happen.
You seem to prepare your performances really thoroughly…
I'm always thinking about the live show and prepare it from the writing and creation of the songs, to the programming of the live setup in its various forms. I perform sets solo, with a DJ, and with a live band depending on the tour and region. Things also take on a life of their own when you perform them after a while. In a way, every show develops the stage show and songs themselves further.
But yeah, preparation is always rigorous. Which is why a chaotic unknown element like the dance off makes things fun for me too. I never know what's about to happen when I select a random person from the crowd either. Controlled chaos is the goal.
What has been the craziest thing that happened?
The most immediate things that come to mind are those moments when I have to shift from performer to crowd control. A couple times some people have had trouble mastering their high, and have had to be dealt with. Those moments tend to stand out and linger in the mind.
In Vancouver a girl tried to jump on stage during the first song and steal a mask I had on. While it usually wouldn't be a problem to restrain someone like that, I found myself having to be careful because she was a very high, very small girl. My immediate move to stop her from running away was to wrap a hand around her neck.
But I instantly realized that would look and be a horrible move. So I had to switch from doing that and just kind of block her. All of this while rapping the song and not dropping any of the words, mind you. That was fun.
How does a band that you’re touring with influence you?
I've been really lucky to tour with some of the greatest to ever do it, in terms of indie rap but also in terms of hardcore and other genres. I'm always paying attention and learning from peers who I respect. Whether it be observing the way they connect with fans, control the crowd, make their music or even handle their business. There's a difference between that and just copying motherfuckers, which I don't do. But I've definitely been frequently inspired and put up on game from seeing how other people do their thing.
Kill The Wolf
Now about the new record. For the first time you self-produced a whole record, right?
That's mostly correct, though it's complicated. I oversaw the production of the whole album and a majority of the beats started out as demo’s in my project studio. I then fleshed them out with other producers and musicians over time.
I'd say that DS3K was my main creative partner in making the album. He was the engineer that tracked all the synths and instruments. He sort of sat with me during every single phase of its construction. Adam Schneider is an incredible synth programmer and multi-instrumentalist who worked on a ton of the sounds on the album along with 3K.
Lastly, when things were approaching completion on our end, we took everything to Alias who sort of put a layer of polish and production technique onto everything, as he mixed it. Alias also played some of the synths on the record. So it was really collaborative with everything getting passed back and forth until it became tighter and tighter.
Daddy Kev mastered the album…
I was lucky enough to be passing through L.A. at the time and sat with him as he did it. I continue to learn a lot from that guy. He's an inspiring individual.
You surround yourself by a lot of people in the production room. You’re a perfectionist…
I often hear something in my head that I lack the technical skill to execute for one reason or another. And for that reason I definitely lean on the people I work with. I sort of orchestrate people's involvement based on what they do best. As a beatmaker, I'm like a strong 7-8, but I want things to sound like a 10. So the deficit I make up by producing other musicians in a more traditional sense.
You write movie scripts. Do you smuggle your music into that?
Doing both things at once results in them bleeding into each other. I did actually compose a movie soundtrack along with DS3K. But we didn't use any music in it I'd release elsewhere. What we did use however was a beat that was rejected from the album, which later became the main theme in the movie's score. Scoring a film was the most fun I've had in a while by the way. I will definitely be looking for opportunities to do more of that.
Film the police
You have a site with Sage Francis where you raise awareness for corporate abuse. How’s it going?
Knowmore.org needs updating. We'll be announcing a Kickstarter campaign a little later in the year to address that.
Do you wear Nike’s?
I never wore Nike’s and never will.
Is this recent wave of police brutality gonna move away silently again? It did catch a lot of attention throughout the world. A big difference with the police brutality wave in NY at the end of the nineties. It never caught much attention, except for a protest 12” on Rawkus and some local demonstrations against Giuliani…
I was at those protests, and I have that record! The difference between then and now is a palpable sense in the streets that people have had enough. They are ready to act out in extreme ways to stop this violence. The creativity and adaptability shown by the Black Lives Matter protesters is really something to be reckoned with. Until the police stop killing innocent people, I don't expect this movement to go anywhere.
October 10 you’re coming to Brussels again. What can we expect?
A set full of new bangers and old classics, woven together as a tight MC/DJ set. Right now, I'm working on the routing and particulars. I'm really trying to bring Buddy Peace along as my DJ and work out a party rocking kinda set along the lines of some classic hip-hop routines. I'm definitely excited to bring that to Europe this year.