Spytech Records is most definitely home to some of the dopest artists coming out of the Los Angeles area. Founded by Styles of Beyond’s DJ / producer Cheapshot in 1999, Spytech has given the underground releases from Lexicon, 4 – Zone, and Emanon. Spytech was also planning on releasing the follow up to S.O.B.’s classic album 2000 Fold, which has since been shelved after the groups recent break up.
Initially, I had contacted Cheapshot for an interview due to the fact that he is one of the hottest underground producers of the moment. I figured that his would be an interview that people would want to read. When I emailed him about possible times for the Q and A, he told me that Ryu and Lexicon would be at his house rehearsing for an upcoming show at one of my available times. Even better, I thought.
In addition to DJing for Styles of Beyond and producing their hit single “Easy back It Up”, Cheapshot has worked with artists such as Mykill Miers and Breez Evaflowin. He founded Spytech Records in 1999 after the first label he was involved in, Rocketship Records, closed it’s doors when two of the three partners involved relocated.
Damage: So, its true Styles of Beyond broke up?
Cheapshot: Yeah, as a matter of fact it just went down two weeks ago, which is unfortunate. I firmly, firmly believe things are going to be a lot better now. Basically, it’s Ryu and myself doing a solo project for Ryu. I just think there’s no more shackles, y’know. It’s a scarey thing being that the name was so established and we got a good jumpstart with the name Styles of Beyond. But I think as a solo artist, Ryu is going to shine through to the best of his abilities.
What were the reasons? Anything you want to talk about?
CS: I think it was just creative differences. I think Tak and Ryu wanted to do different things. They weren’t seeing eye to eye. No hard feelings toward anybody. It was just a mutual agreement to dissolve the group.
You guys working together in the future still?
CS: Ryu and myself are. Tak has alternate plans of what he wanted to do. Which is totally cool. We’re still in touch. It was a decision that had to be made because of so much demand for the next album. So we decided, lets not do anything we don’t want to do. let’s just go our separate ways.
So what are you working on now?
CS: I’m putting out something called the Poo Poo Platter. Cheapshot’s Poo Poo Platter. It’s a production album with MCs like Divine Styler, Mr. Complex, Celph Titled and Apathy, J- Zone, Breez. Just a bunch of artists I’ve always wanted to work with and now I get the chance to.
How did you hook up with some of those artists from outside of LA?
CS: I’m a production whore, dude. (laughs) Anyway I can get hooked up with anybody. With Celph Titled it was really weird. Me and him were on different coasts but getting equal attention as far as media and production work. I don’t remember how it happened but someone gave me his number. he was working at BUDS. I used to deal with them as far as selling records. We got to talking.
J-Zone, on the other hand, I was a big fan of through a project I was doing publicity for called Runaways UK. My boss had his number since we were doing the press for that record. I called him up since it was so long since I really liked something. Hiphop got stale for awhile. When I first heard J-Zone, I was like , “Goddamn, this guy is dope!”
So I called him and he turned out to be a real down to earth guy I had a chance to go out and kick it with him. Definitely on the same page.
Saying hiphop got stale, I was going to ask what you thought about some of the recent trends in hiphop. Like the remake was really big for awhile.
CS: To me, I started DJing probably right when the hiphop boom started happening. Right before the Internet. Before sample clearances. When everything was free and it was about music that made you feel good. Black Sheep was a big influence on me. Digable Planets. All that stuff.
I did a college radio show and I remember getting Killarmy’s shit and not that I didn’t like it, but it was so slow and real down. it just wasn’t the same thing anymore. When the BPM’s started coming down, I couldn’t wait for the song to be over sometimes.
A radio show where I heard S.O.B. on a few years back, that’s what the DJs were saying. That they didn’t picture you guys getting to much play on mix shows because you were too up tempo.
CS: It’s funny they were saying that and yet they were still playing our record. Me, Ryu and Takbir really had a dream to put the energy back in it. The pendulum always swings back, so we figured why not be the group that gets it started.
So what exactly was Bilawn records? Was that the three of you?
CS: Actually, Bilawn Records was Takbir’s older brother Bilal and his partner Shawn – Bilawn. But it was just Takbir’s older brother’s belief in his brother. he heard the group and was like, “Lets do this.” There was no money in it. He was the one manufacturing the records. He used to be Divine Styler’s DJ and was in the Rhyme Syndicate. He knew the game. We put it in his hands and he took it from there.
How did you hook up with the other people that were on 2000 Fold like DJ Revolution and Rhettmatic?
CS: All that was through Bilal. He had good contacts in the industry. He was down with Carmelita from the Wake Up Show. She played it for them and they LOVED it. Revolution wanted to be down. Rhettmatic wanted to be down. I think they were just fans of the music.
What do you think of the current crop of underground records?
CS: I don’t have the time or money to buy records anymore. SO I’m not really checking for too much. Of what I hear, they still haven’t picked up the tempo. I mean there’s a lot of talent out there. I think the creativity is there, you just have to find it. I think that people have finally realized that just about anyone can do this with the right backing and the right tools. There’s just so much, you gotta find the talent.
So what is the LA scene like? It seems like there is a lot of talent out there? Is there an active club scene?
CS: That has kinda come to an end. When Styles put out 2000 Fold, there was different clubs throwing things every week. There was Dilated, Jurassic 5 and Ugly Duckling doing shows and people were flying out Raekwon and different MCs. Now the promoters have moved on to different things and the most you will find is like an underground show for like five dollars to see a group that has no name. Or just the big stadium shows like Jay Z. So, if you go to one of these clubs for an underground show, like everyone in the crowd is an MC or DJ. It just not a positive vibe because everyone wants to be on top.
Now did you find any friction locally when you guys blew up?
CS: Yeah, actually. I’m not going to name any names. There were rumors going around that we got the money to do what we did from our Mommys and Daddys. So honestly we did feel jealousy. I mean we came out of no where and got attention and you got groups on their tenth album still selling them out of their trunk. I mean, I understand how they feel, but that’s not our fault.
You guys went on tour with… what’s the name of that group again?
CS: (laughs) LEN. They had that song “Steal My Sunshine”. That’s the funnest time I’ve ever had. Traveling across the country in a bus. It was fun because the groups were so different. Then we went on tour with Linkin Park right as they were blowing up. We just did a Spytech records tour up and down the West Coast.
What the next thing you’ve got planned?
CS: We’re forming our own crew because no one out here in the West has like one of the old super crews. So we’re forming one called the Distortion Orphans. It’s me, Ryu, Lexicon, 4-Zone, Sandman, 13 from ABB Records, some other people. We’re putting it together to make people recognize LA as having a crew.
Ryu is known as one of the two rapid delivery MCs that drew critical acclaim to Styles of Beyond’s debut LP 2000 Fold. After meeting in college Ryu and his former partner Takbir recorded their single “Killer Instinct” featuring Divine Styler which found rotation on Sway and Tech’s Wake Up Show. They followed that up with the single “Easy Back It Up” and eventually the LP. A few label changes later, Styles of Beyond were preparing to drop their sophomore album on Spytech before their recent break up.
What’s your take on the break up of Styles of Beyond?
Ryu: I think it’s for the better. There was just a bunch of problems between me and Tak and it was just for the better. I could get more stuff done by myself and I think it’s about time that I do my own thing anyway. It just wasn’t working out.
Did you record any new material?
R: Yeah, we have a lot of material recorded. We were about to drop another album. Without getting into too much detail or dropping shit about one another, we just couldn’t come together. He wanted to do his own thing and I was ready to do my own thing. There was a lot of stuff I could do on my own without him. Im twenty six years old, I got a wife and a kid, I can’t be waiting around for people.
Is there a particular moment with Styles of beyond that you knew you were making a buzz?
R: I don’t think we really made that big of a buzz. From what I can see we don’t really have that many fans. I mean that last album was out a few years ago.
I noticed on your album there were a lot of different references to places around LA. Could you describe LA a little bit to people who have never been out there?
R: Well, LA is like New York where it’s all LA but separated into different boroughs. They’re not boroughs but different sections that have different names but all make up LA.
I noticed when I read a lot of the reviews from 2000 Fold that people always said that it had a millennial feel to it. Do you think with all that’s occurred in the past few months do you think that people just felt anxious? Like they knew something was coming?
R: Yeah, I do think people thought something was coming. I don’t think anyone thought it was going to be terrorism though. Everyone thought all the computers were going to crash. Now we know something was up, even back in 99 they were planning to blow up LAX and Seattle.
Didn’t you guys hook up with the Dust Brothers? What happened with them?
R: Yeah we hooked up with the Dust Brothers because we put out 2000 Fold and moved enough units to get the attention of some bigger labels. They stepped to us and we liked them at the time, so we went with them Then their label folded and Mammoth kind of inherited us. Then they didn’t even call us for eight months, so we didn’t record. They finally released us. That’s another reason, right there.
Kind of took the steam out?
So what do you think of the underground scene right now?
R: I think there’s a lot of crap out. A lot of the mainstream stuff is better than the underground stuff.
Do you think that with the Internet, kids have gotten hyper critical?
R: I think that a lot of people who wouldn’t have contact with hiphop have tuned in and latched on to like this abstract crap. There is a lot of abstract shit that makes no sense that people who live out in the country or somewhere relate to and it’s just crap.
Yeah, I know what you mean. Someone gave me something by Dose One once and I couldn’t even listen to it. I couldn’t understand why they liked it.
R: Well, I think Dose One does what he does and does it well. That’s no so bad. I can get into Dose One. the problem is with all these guys who come out and try and sound like him and suck. I think it’s just crap. I can’t stand to hear it.
What do you think about a lot of people talking about the ability to freestyle versus a written rap? Like having to be able to do both.
R: I don’t really care. I’d rather hear a dope written than a wack freestyle. Know what I mean. Or a dope freestyle than a wack written. If I go down to a big radio station like Power 106 and I’m going to be on the air, I’m gonna do something I have prepared. I’m trying to sell myself. Now if I’m on a college station and the people listening know what they are hearing I’ll freestyle off the top. One of the best freestylers is my partner Takbir. People don’t know it because he doesn’t walk around wearing it on his chest.
So what do you have coming next?
R: My solo album. It’s called Mega Death. It’s going to be different than anything I did with Styles. There were a lot of things I couldn’t do as a group that I can do solo.
Lexicon is comprised of brothers Oak and Nick Fury who have been active in the underground for the past several years. Originally appearing as part of the Library Crew, the two MCs released their debut EP, Antiquity, in 1999. Since hooking up with Cheapshot’s label, Lexicon has released it’s critically acclaimed single, “Come Up” b/w “Nikehead” and their debut LP, It’s the L.
How would you describe Lexicon’s sound?
Oak: I would describe it as heavily influenced by early 90s hiphop, y’know. Late 80s but more so early 90s was really influential on me because I was in high school. That’s what really made its stamp, made its mark on us. Like A Tribe Called Quest, De La, Artifacts. More groups than I can name really. That’s the foundation of our sound. I mean we still keep it next level and come with original flows but it’s definitely influenced by that stuff. Everything back then had so much personality. A lot of underground people are characterless. The early 90s stuff had a lot of flavor and you wanted to know about the MCs.
That’s a good way to put it. They had their own personality.
O: Now, either you’re into mainstream cats. Some of ’em are Okay. Like Ludacris, he’s definitely got his own personality. Most of these underground cats are pretty bland.
I wanted to ask your opinion about some classics. Like the feeling you get from ’em. Or when you first heard them or whatever.
O: Ah, man. That was probably my favorite posse cut. At least one of ’em for sure. That was the first time I heard Masta Ace. I thought it was incredible. That was right when i was really getting into Big daddy Kane.
Bridge Is Over?
O: That’s a classic too. Just part of that whole time period.
Now did you grow up on the West Coast?
O: Actually Colorado and California. I went to high school in San Diego. Started in ’89.
Were kids listening to more West Coast groups?
O: In the mid to late 80s, hiphop wasn’t on the radio at all. So the only place we got hiphop from was Yo MTV Raps when that started in like 87 or 88. That was only East Coast stuff. Occasionally, they showed NWA or DOC. We grew up East Coast fans.
Growing up here on the east Coast, I have a memory of watching MTV raps and seeing NWA come on and my friend changed the channel right away.
O: (laughs) Weren’t feeling it, huh?
Actually, kids I know would just hear West Coast and stop listening. Not now. Back then. In that same time period you were talking about.
Now do you think being on an independent label, that your fans are more loyal. Meaning they’ll make the effort to find your music to buy it.
O: Yeah, to an extent. I mean being a fan myself. When there is an independent or underground group, it’s kind of like it’s your own discovery. So I think in that sense, they’ll stick with you. At the same time, underground fans can be just as fickle as mainstream fans. Just kind of jumping from one thing to another. It’s a trip to me, I’ve seen both things.
So I’ve heard some of your stuff lately and, like Styles of Beyond, it’s a lot more upbeat than a lot of the stuff that’s been coming out lately. Is that by design or does it just come out that way?
N: It kind of just comes out that way. it’s partially by design. I feel like a lot of the stuff that’s been coming out lately is real boring. We’re not trying to be a throw back, just trying to make the music that we used to enjoy. Everything got real serious and intellectual for awhile. Not that its bad being intellectual.
What do you think about some of the more abstract groups that have been getting attention in the past couple of years?
N: It’s cool, but I don’t know. When Company Flow came out back in like 97, I thought it was really amazing. It seems like it’s still just hitting a lot of kids now. I think I’m over it. Truthfully, I haven’t heard a lot of it, but have heard of it.
What do you think about some of the DJ Premier knock offs that have been putting shit out? It sounds like it could be Premier, but it’s not. Know what I mean?
N: Yeah. That effects even how I listen to him now. When I hear Premier now, I think of all the people who have copied him.
What were some of the big records you listened to growing up? What were some of your favorites?
N: Leaders of the New School had like a real big impact on me. That was the first album I went crazy over. But I liked all them like Tribe and De La. Pharcyde. A lot of Biggie’s early stuff.
As a fan, were you an addictive buyer of music? Did you buy like every album that came out?
N: Ah, man. Yeah, every Tuesday. On the album, we have a song called Charismatic rapper and I say that every Tuesday, I was at the warehouse. I would get anything new. Even underground was still on a major label back then. If it had a scheduled release date, I was bugging the clerk.
Do you think with the popularity of hiphop that the songs have changed to try to conform to the popularity of the music?
N: I think it’s kind of a combination of things. I feel like the underground feels it has to sound a certain way and mainstream feels like it has to sound a certain way. It’s like you’re not allowed to cross any lines. It’s not the same. There’s not that bond anymore. That if you like this so does someone else who listens to hiphop.
How did you hook up with Spytech?
N: We were on another independent label and things hadn’t worked out with them. Cheapshot had a radio show at UC Irvine and we went down there to do an interview. We said that we had pretty much parted with our old label. He was saying that he was starting a label and it worked out from there.
And is that when you got in with the Distortion Orphans?
N: Ah, man, that’s some shit to look out for. There are too many crews that are misrepresenting out there, so we have to come and show them who’s boss.
How do you plan on doing that?
N: Just coming with the classic posse cuts, man. Lexicon comes with the uptempo stuff. Styles of Beyond came with the futuristic type stuff. But this is just that raw hiphop shit. All our frustrations are going to come out through there.
Any artists come out that you check for?
N: Apathy and Celph Titled. I think Ludacris is dope. I’m listening to a lot of rock right now.
N: I’ve been liking The Strokes a lot. I don’t know if you’ve heard them?
N: There out of control.
Actually, I just bought that CD a couple of weeks ago.
N: Oh man, it’s perfect. I’m not lying when I say I think it’s the best album I’ve heard of any type.
I was just saying i thought it was at least the best rock album I’ve heard in years.
N: I’ve been listening to them and Betaband. They’re from the UK. They actually incorporate a lot of rap into their songs.
What do you think about the fusion of rock and hiphop?
N: It seems like the mainstream attempt at it was pretty crappy. You can just tell an A & R put that shit together. I’ve heard some versions of it, like Betaband, where it’s mostly singing and mostly guitars. it’s not rock instruments making hiphop beats, it’s rock music with rapping over it. i think if it’s done properly it’s pretty cool.
What would you hear in LA right now on an underground mix show?
N: Ah man, I haven’t really been listening.
Is there like a home team they root for?
N: Dilated is definitely big stars around here. They’ve been getting play on the larger radio stations even.
I asked your brother this question, so I’ll ask you. Do you think coming out on an independent label will give you more loyal fans, like people who will search for your music.
N: I think underground fans are more loyal. From a fans perspective, they feel more close to you. Like, yo, that’s my man. I know how that feels. But honestly, I’ll take fans anywhere we can get them from.
Spytech has big things planned for the near future. Lexicon is dropping their new single “Make the Music” at the end of March featuring Apathy and Celph Titled, Cheapshot is serving up his Poo Poo Platter and Emanon is releasing an EP in the coming months. There is no tentative release date for Ryu’s solo project, but be on the look out. Check for new information on Spytech artists at www.spytechrecords.com.