The Mission: One album was added to my collection a couple months ago and quickly jumped into heavy rotation. The crew consists of 6 members, MCs Raashan Ahmad and Moe Pope, with Kat on the keys, Max on the drums, Woodstock on the samplers, and Headnodic doubling on bass as well as production. I got a chance to catch up with 5 of the members on a phone interview similar to one of those party lines with everyone throwing in answers and thoughts on everything from terrorism’s effects on hiphop and how they put together their own two-month tour.
Jbutters: Depending on the articles I’ve seen the group described as being from Cali or Boston, where is everyone from to clear that up?
Max: I’m from Massachusetts
Kat: Wichita, Kansas
Raashan: I’m from Pasadena, Ca, the other MC Moe is from Boston and so is Woodstock one of our other producers.
JB: Whose idea was it to use the name Mission, is it a description of what you’re trying to do in hiphop?
K: We were living in Boston at the time in this place called Mission Hill.
R: Since we started from there it was the basis of it, hey were from Mission Hill just drop the Hill and we’ll call it Mission. Also the word Mission is fresh and kinda describes us as a crew. Everyone in life is on a mission and it seemed perfect to describe us and hopefully the music we can create.
JB: How did you guys connect with Insiduous Urban Records?
H: I was working on a side project and I met Zack from the label and he wanted to do an instrumental record with me called Headnodic beats. We ended up doing that and then I brought Mission over to him and he dug that and basically the rest is history.
JB: What did you guys learn at the Berkeley School of Music that you feel contributed directly to your skills and success with Mission?
K: We learned how to work with people on a musical level all in the same room. You know about music when you go there but they hone your skills in how you deal with other musicians.
M: For me Berkeley was about learning how to make contacts and dealing with other people, but it also allowed me to gain access to different types of music. I studied African, Afro-Cuban, Afro-Brazilian, and Classical Indian. That helps with Mission because I feel hiphop is a mixture of world music.
JB: With the Roots popularizing hiphop with the backing of a live band a lot of crews have attempted the format. What differences do you try to bring when incorporating live instruments into your music and stage show?
R: Knowing the Roots are the trailblazers for this sub genre it’s a subconscious effort not to sound like them going into all of our songs. Just because we’re all different we won’t sound like them, but we make sure it’s a different approach. By using everyone’s personal background that forms the group and bringing out their personality in the music helps us make something unique. As far as our stage show each person has a solo. Its kinda like when your rocking with a DJ you have to give him a solo, only it’s a little more expanded. Most folks on the stage grew up playing music other than hiphop and personally I’m really proud to play with people with such wide ranges of music. So when we’re onstage I want everybody to see it. I love watching these cats just play and I think its something the crowd needs to see. It’s an art getting lost and I think it’s important.
JB: From a musician’s standpoint how is it collaborating with an MC as opposed to another band member as far as coming to a consensus on something?
K: The voice is another instrument. The MC gives it direction with their words. They choose the topic and then you play how it makes you feel. With everyone working together you come up with something that goes with the topic or turns into something completely different.
M: As a drummer I love it because rhythmically its been like going back to school. It’s a whole new thing with different cadences and phrasing, it’s been a good ride.
JB: Raashan what have been the differences you’ve experience working with a live band?
R: It’s a lot easier not dealing with anyone. With a beat in front of you, you can slide through it and work with the producer on dropouts and stuff like that. Its not that easy to work with musicians in general, but when you work with the right ones that have the same vibe and general respect for each other musically it gets really dope. I’d rather work with 5 musicians a little bit more than production. My idea coming out through someone else playing something I wouldn’t ever think about playing is amazing when it works all the way through.
JB: With everyone used to playing a lot of music outside of hiphop how did you come to the agreement to form a hiphop band?
R: Boston is a mecca for musicians and there are a couple of music schools. The town is full of musicians and there are jam sessions everywhere. Most cats usually end up playing funk or some variation of it with a rhythm you can rhyme over. That happens a lot in Boston and it came down to meeting folks through jams. If cats are rhyming its gonna be called a hiphop band and I think the musicians cater more to the vocalist and that’s the way it kinda formed. Even though everyone played different types of music there was a general interest in this genre.
JB: Did any of you initially look at working predominantly in a hiphop genre as limiting yourselves?
M: I’m excited about it. There are countless amounts of beats to learn and the pocket alone is a lifetime of work. I look at it as a big step and a big challenge for me. I played in a punk Ska band, but my dad is a musician who mainly played blues and funk. He also listened to a lot of hiphop so that was a big influence on me too. I was just interested in playing fast.
K: I loved hiphop beats. I remember not really knowing what hiphop was but I liked listening to the beats. I grew up on classical rock and then I was introduced to funk and jazz. After that I met up with a lot of hiphop heads and they would talk about how this song sampled this funk record or that was from this jazz record. I began thinking to myself I want to play the music people sample. I used it as a learning tool too. When we would come up with something I would play something that was hard for me because when you loop it you learn it more. It also helped me to listen to what MCs are saying.
H: I love playing all kinds of music and I don’t see any other genre that encompasses as many forms of music as hiphop. It brought me to a point where I could showcase a bunch of different styles and bring them all together. We’ve only touched the tip of the iceberg of all the styles we could put into hiphop form.
JB: What do you feel are the differences between the sounds each producer creates?
H: I sample a lot of jazz.
R: Most of the production was done by Headnodic so his style, at least to me, is very musical. Woodstock produced “Chocolate Milk and Apricots” and he has more of a boom bap raw feel.
H: Woodstock gets a very hypnotic groove going. He’s a dancer also, so his approach is gonna be very trance and dance like. I’m probably more song oriented in just the instrumental aspect.
R: I just got my MPC. I’ve been working on Woodstock’s and Headnodic’s for a while, so I’m still trying to figure out my style. I produced the tracks “Rockin It” and “Throw Ya Hands Up”, which were both straightforward beats you could play with your fists on a desk.
H: I’ve always heard that ever since Rah picked up the MPC, lunch table beats. It’s almost an old school approach like Nice and Smooth beats or something.
R: Ha Ha
JB: What are some specific things regarding production that you try to do to separate yourself from the pack?
H: One thing I know I don’t like is listening to a beat drop and just sit there. Premier can do it and maybe one or two other people, but there’s too many people putting out a beat and not a song. I like the fact that a lot of our stuff sounds like songs.
JB: Who is in the B-Sides crew?
R: Brown young, he is an MC and an amazing artist. He does MC, but right now he’s painting a lot more. This crew called Lunar Heights, who should hopefully be dropping a single sometime soon. They are really dope
H: Raashan’s brother JBL, who also did the cover art for the new 12″ single coming out soon.
R: There’s also a bunch of cats that help out in other ways but as far as putting out material, Lunar Heights and JBL should be coming out soon.
JB: In the light of the recent tragedies a lot of people have become more focused on what’s important in life. How do you think the terrorist attacks are going to affect the abundance of iced out lyrics and the basic creation of music?
R: As that day was coming to an end we were in Wisconsin on tour and actually thought about what might happen in hiphop now. I don’t know if that event is going to change a lot of behavior going on because that whole thing is an evil force of society at work. I don’t think it will be torn down easily. I think everything comes in waves and hopefully it will come to an end sometime soon. There has to be a breaking point or at least that’s what I keep telling myself.
JB: Ha Ha. Lately I’ve seen your album everywhere so the distribution is pretty good. Aside from that what are you going to do to get your name known?
R: Our tour was a big push. That was the main way we decided to do it. We’re distributed through Caroline, but most people probably look at it and have no idea what it is. There’s not much anyone can do besides getting the records to College and mixtape DJs and doing shows. Word of mouth has probably been our best friend.
(Woodstock enters on 3-way to join the conversation)
JB: This was a grass roots tour as well, how did you guys hook up the shows?
Woodstock: We put the tour together with all of us using connections we had or people we knew in different cities. Raashan also did a lot of cold calls to random clubs and sent them our product and they either said yes or no.
JB: What are some things you’ve picked up from touring?
H: People are very accommodating and nice to bands they like coming through.
K: When you say hiphop they are every welcoming.
R: Us being a band really helped out because we got to play in places we wouldn’t have been able to otherwise. When you’re calling certain clubs and say you’re a hiphop band they’re like nah, but we were like we’re a hiphop, jazz, soul, funk band to sort of candy coat it. The next time we go around it will be bigger and better. This was our first time doing it also.
JB: What spots did you tour?
R: Seattle, Utah, Denver, Minneapolis…
JB: Wait how was Utah?
W: Utah was a trip
R: Utah was hype
K: It was hype the second time around
R: The first time I booked the complete wrong gig and then we rolled through town and saw a hiphop record store, stopped in and got a gig for the way back. We went to Madison, Boston, Connecticut, Vermont, and Atlanta.
JB: Wow so you just drove around the country
R: Yea it was seven of us in a van
W: Being in a van cooped up with seven people sounds like it could work on somebody’s nerves but it worked out pretty well because we’ve been around each other so long that we know each other’s ways.
R: Don’t get it twisted though we had our ins and outs.
JB: I saw on your website you’ve performed with some bigger names such as Talib Kweli and Common. How did you get onto those bills?
R: A lot of those were in San Francisco. Last year we were the best of the Bay for this newspaper and this year we won best hiphop group in the bay. One of the venues digs us and the guy who runs it supports us so when big acts come through he makes sure we open for them sometimes. We opened up for Angela Davis and it was huge. It wasn’t as many people as Talib Kweli…
H: But she brought our record.
W: It meant a lot more, but the Kweli show was dope too.
JB: Did you see any significant differences in crowd support at home as opposed to the places you toured?
W: I can say this right off the bat LA treats us nice. Its 400 miles away and they treat us like we live there. There’s a lot more support down there.
R: The promoters here respect us, but there has been a big shift in the people who come to clubs here. It’s hard to get a steady following up in the bay.
JB: Artists are always their own harshest critics. In retrospect is there anything you would have changed or added to the album?
H: We want to get the live band down more. I dig the live band cut we have on the new 12’’ single that’s coming out on Insiduous Urban Records called “Chocolate Milk and Apricots the remix”. I’m pretty proud of that and I hope everyone enjoys that when it comes out in a few weeks.
R: Before that album came there was a question of whether we should even put it out because we were so disgusted with it.
K: It was just that all of it was old and then still when we do things now a week later it seems old.
R: We were debating on whether we should put it out, but in retrospect that was us being our worst critic. I think we are all happy about where it was because it definitely represented the time and place we were at. There’s just so much more now that we want to do. Its limitless there are so many more rhythms to play with, so many more ways I can incorporate sounds, words, and drums etc. There is so much to do that wasn’t done and hopefully I’ll always feel like this.
JB: Since you say everything is old on the album what are some things you have improved on since then?
R: Hopefully I’m a better MC than I was back then.
JB: Were all the lyrics that old?
W: They weren’t all that old. It was stuff that started to be made in 98 and then some that went on until like maybe a month before it got sent out in 2000. I would say it’s a progression of what had been going on to the point that the album came out.
R: Towards the end of the album it kinda moves to where we’re trying to go.
K: If anything its exciting to look at what can come next.
H: When we were finishing up we said it feels like the album is going closer to what we want to accomplish from track 1 to the end. It starts to take us out more to our natural thing.
JB: What was the basis of throwing the interludes in there?
W: Those were some of the inspirations in hiphop
R: Plus Dean and Jah are funny. I think everyone has homies in the crew that they just enjoy looking at and laughing. We just put a mic in front of them and they just started. We have that same conversation about 3 times a week.
JB: How have you measured the success of this album and how will you judge future success?
M: You always want to progress but I think we’re happy at what came out of this album. We’re happy that we got as far as we did with it. We were able to travel the country, support ourselves on a 2-month tour and sold a good amount of records. We’re definitely looking to sell more units the next time.
R: It was a success just getting our record played on the radio. That’s a huge deal to have people listening to your song, have people come up to you and say they like it, and respect me as an MC. That’s one of my goals that have been fulfilled. Putting out a group effort after being together for years is a huge success. I don’t think we went as far with the album as we would have liked, but I think that’s because we’re always aiming higher.
M: We’ve hit quite a few states, but we haven’t hit all of them. We’ve been to Europe, but we would like to hit more countries there. We have some hemispheres we haven’t hit.
R: We still know we’re super underground right now. A lot of people have never heard of us or any of our songs. I wish we had the resources and tools to get it out more. I don’t think we can put a close on he numbers we have moved or the people that heard it because even though its old to us its new to a lot of people.
JB: If the next album dropped tomorrow what would be a major difference?
M: This album did not have as much live stuff as we hope to do in the future.
K: We’re trying to find a way of putting the energy we have onstage into out recordings. There’s so much energy when you’re playing live and there is an audience your feeding off of with so much adrenaline rushing. That’s a hard thing, to merge recording and that feeling.