Explain the Land of the Way It Is.
Land of the Way It Is (the title), is inspired by a Jim Starlin reference from some of his work with Marvel. In terms of how it applies here conceptually, my album is about being an artist that’s been kept from the freedom to create. These days you have to work double. A full time job and a full time music career. It’s not about sitting in a studio and writing or at the boards producing. It’s about doing your own promo, tour booking, mixing and mastering – Plus the art! All of that. PLUS, clocking in for someone else at the same time and (oh yeah) maintaining a personal life. This album is about my struggle to find balance within that circumstance in the most artful way I could put it. It also delves into my younger years as a lower class youth and provides some context of where I’ve been, am and are about to go. I think in 2013, the fan is almost always an artist on some level and in some way, so I think there’s something in here for most people to identify with.
What’s the story behind this track/collabo?
I grew up a HUGE fan of Organized Konfusion, so reaching out to Prince Po was a no brainer. It was an honor to work with him. Once I had a few concepts laid out for this record, I knew that something like Frequent Flyers would be a good fit for him. I laid out my verse, which basically paired the allure of flying to various cities, but having to do them for reasons other then your own on someone else’s dime. The inert cyncicalness of that situation is what I wanted to point out. Po stepped in and did the rest, from his perspective on it and did it well. Shout out to Willie Green on the beat too.
Tell the people about Uncommon Records.
Uncommon is the little engine that could and has been since 2004. We’ve always represented the sound of Progressive Hip-Hop to the best of our collective abilities. For almost ten years now, I’ve served as A & R (among many other things), seeking out the best unheard music from coast to coast and beyond. I think we’ve been able to good a job as a label of delivering on that. It was a proud moment when we released Uncommon Burners 2 earlier this year that captured a chunk of our accomplishments in what I’d like to call our 2nd wave as a label.
That said, it’s time for something different, so in 2014 the label is going to only be releasing albums that I’ve produced entirely, or at least am a large majority of. The exception will be if we do some work with Agartha Audio (aka Dig Dug) since he’s been with us from the beginning and is as much a part of the Uncommon sound as anyone. I wouldn’t do anything I’ve done with the label differently, but at this point I feel I’ve earned the right to represent myself a little bit more. Running the label as I have all these years, I’ve put myself on the sidelines as a Producer to a small degree and as I sit on the bench and watch other producers get run I know I need to get out there and build my reputation to what it is amongst my inner circle, everywhere to everyone. You’ll also hear me rap on other folks’ beats, but I’ll have some large hand (from a musical perspective) in all the stuff from the label starting now, basically.
You were the first to call it Prog Rap right?
As far as I know, in the context that I’m using it in, where Progressive is referring to pushing the envelope to the left in the genre of rap, YES. I am the first to use it this way when it relates to rap music. There may be some that disagree, but it’s not my fault they weren’t paying attention to me when I was saying it over 10 years ago.
Is violence really the answer?
Haha, an oldie but a goodie. The Dark Weapons EP still means a lot to me. It was the album I needed to make at that time. My apartment had just been broken into, my wife was put in danger, lots of small goods were stolen and we were forever violated. “Slugging Percentage” is a portrayal of what I was feeling at that moment after the realization of what happened was hitting me. The urge to just go into the streets with a bat looking for the person that did this to you is really strong. The urge to punch through a wall or break some shit is there. That whole record was essentially about those feelings, and the real life act of crafting every day items like steak knives and baseball bats (among other things) into weapons of protection when left no other choice. I can distinctly remember traveling in my car with a bat for a month after it happened so I’d be able to bring my bat with me as I entered and left my house. That did take place and it was deemed legitimate to do so at the time considering the circumstances. My honest answer is, violence is NOT the answer. But taking the threat of violence away from people for their actions can only lead to anarchy.
I heard you killed Adam Warlock.
The Adam Warlock thing was spurred on by two things happening at about the same time. My group broke up and I was setting out on a solo career and I had really, really started to dig into the work of Jim Starlin. So part of me wanted to create a clear break between what I had done in my group and what I was doing solo. Part of me also, in retrospect stupidly, wanted to create a clear difference in the work I was doing as a writer and emcee and the work I was doing as a producer and engineer. It was a fun period though. I stepped into my own as Adam Warlock, I needed that period where I didn’t have a lot of baggage from my previous stuff on me. I made Dark Weapons and collected a second LP as Adam called The Early Life of Adam. I did lots of collaborations and got respect from people I respected. It helped me become the Uncommon Nasa that I am today.
Why did The Presence break up?
What’s sad is that there was never a moment of truth where we came together and said “we aren’t gonna do this anymore because of X, Y & Z”. There would be lots of great reasons to not do The Presence anymore, real life has a way of stepping in and I understand that. I’m just disappointed that it was never fully addressed. I enjoyed my time in the group and all the music we made together, but I’m glad I got the chance to shine on my own too now. I’ve grown a lot as a writer and being solo has given me the freedom to explore more autobiographical material and that’s where my head is at right now as a writer. I also have the incredible freedom to roll out of bed and complete a song in a day without having to coordinate with anyone else, same for traveling and doing shows.
Let’s talk Staten Island Hip Hop.
Staten Island hip-hop marches to it’s own drum. I still see cats rocking Wallabee Clark’s all the time, the styles don’t change out here. You can always kind of tell when a cat is from Staten, even when you aren’t in this boro. Just the other day I heard “Mystery of Chessboxin” pumping out of a car outside my building. It’s always been a bit more underground out here and with rare exception, even in 2013, I think a lot of cats in some way are still working off of Wu Tang’s model, and that’s a beautiful thing. I wish there were more venues out here, hopefully that will come in time, there’s a strong art and restaurant scene here, so it’s only a matter of time for the music part to join that.
Give us a story from the Def Jux days.
During the mix process for Cold Vein we ended up in 5 different studios. One of them was the old Cutting Room. We were working with the engineer there who was freelance and had a grip of mixes done. But he worked pretty slow, or at least slower then we desired at the time. We probably had unrealistic expectations, but I digress. The label was paying by the hour and at some point a dispute broke out with the ownership and studio manager about money that was owed. I can’t tell you the details of what sparked that dispute, because I don’t remember. I just know we were all like “wtf, they didn’t even finish enough songs and shit!”. So at the end of one of the sessions they instructed their engineer to deprive us of the master tapes for that session, which were at the time DATs. The engineer told us ahead of time and didn’t want us to get screwed, so he slipped a blank into the cases that he was supposed to keep. We argued at the front desk while this was happening with the manager on the phone, since by this time it was after Midnight. Oh, and randomly Tame One was in the lobby chilling from some other session while all this was going down and this was way before he was even associated with Jux at all. Needless to say, we got our tapes, I’d assume at some point they got their money. But the next few sessions were held at a different studio, then after that I mixed the remainder of the record back at Jux.
Raps, beats, mixing/mastering, what’s your favorite part?
I love them all equally. Terrible answer, but I do. Being able to write and express myself on the mic is a special gift and craft that I put a high value on. Making beats and producing records is what I always dreamt about doing. Mixing and mastering is something I know I’m good at, beyond subjectivity. I’m just fucking good at it and pretty much always will be. I’ll always be able to make some money at that, regardless of needing a 9 to 5. That’s powerful shit.
So what’s for dinner?
If I can get a nice seat at a bar/restaurant and get a great burger, roasted chicken or a steak paired with a deep selection of craft beers then I’m a happy man. Good times in good places with good people is worth paying for. I love eating out. Not as much “Pasta w/ Butter” as back in the days, haha.