Whattup world? The Clapster is back, it’s been a while, the Soul Occs diary didn’t work out, there’s just too much to do, we got the show with eMC, Torae and Marco Polo coming up on monday and are still recording the album. But that’s another thing.
I sat down and did an interview with Inverse, some of y’all might remember that I posted their free download album “So far” back in january. I already let y’all know that I really liked it and I’m still spinning the cd. So it was just a matter of time since I wanted to get more into it and get to know more about them and their goals, plans and backgrounds…
WYDU: Hey guys, how are you doing?
Toby: I’m great. Just trying to keep thinking and pushing forward.
Tunji: Pretty damn good. Ridiculously busy, but things are going well and moving in the right direction.
WYDU: When did you fall in love with Hip Hop?
Toby: I listened to all kinds of music when I was growing up. My dad was from the south so he would always listen to blues and country on the radio. My mom listened to more classic rock ie. the Beatles, Led Zeppelin. etc.. and I grew up exploring music and gaining huge influences from the likes of Bob Marley, John Lennon, Marvin Gaye, Sam Cooke, James Brown, and Muddy Waters. I was a huge Michael Jackson fan also. I casually listened to hip hop because I always had my ear pressed to a radio. It had already seeped into mainstream pop culture by then. But in 1994, in the span of about 2 weeks, I heard Common’s album Resurrection and Nas’s Illmatic. I had always been obssesed with music and always had a fascination with words. Those albums brought those two things together in a way that captivated me forever. I spent most of my younger days of emceeing trying to be like Common on Ressurrection.
Tunji: Coming up, I was always a huge music fan, and all different kinds of music were played in my household. My parents are from Nigeria, and they grew up in the 60s and 70s, so there was a good mix of Afrobeat, funk, soul, rock, and a lot of Motown R&B in our house. I lived in Nigeria for a little while as a kid, and my dad was staying here in the US working. He used to record music videos off of MTV and send us VHS tapes with all these big eighties videos – Madonna, Whitney Houston, the B-52s, Rod Stewart, of course Michael Jackson. Eventually, there would be a few rap videos included, like the Fat Boys, Run DMC and Biz Markie, and that was my introduction to hip hop. We moved back to the US and a kid named Stephen Turner let me borrow his tape of The Chronic in 5th grade, and I never looked back. This was in ’92 or so, and that was the first rap album I was obsessed with to the point of learning all the lyrics and just completely being absorbed in the music.
WYDU: You worked with Soul Supreme in the very beginning, how did you get in contact with him?
Toby: When I was about 16 I was offered this record deal from some shady label that heard some stuff of mine online. Soul Supreme was the producer that they assigned to work on the album with me. We both got about a song or two into it and realized we were far from being ready to take on a project like that. We stayed in contact and I worked on a few solo songs over the next few years. When Inverse came together and started working on songs in 2001 he was obviously the first one we contacted to work with us. We’ve both evolved as artists in different directions since then. We talk every now and then and it’s my understanding that he’s been successful with his recent projects in Europe and I couldn’t be happier for him. He’s a talented guy and one of the best people I’ve had the pleasure of knowing in this industry.
Tunji: I know he’s working on some electronic projects under the name Kocky now, and he’s doing really well over there in Europe, so big shouts to Soul Supreme. He’s a true talent and he helped us a lot at the beginning.
WYDU: Is it hard to make your way in a music scene where people usually talk about violence, drugs and sex? I mean, I got the feeling that it’s easier for people to be accepted in Hip Hop when you grew up in the streets.
Toby: Well I don’t think most people usually talk about violence, drugs, and sex. I think the representation of hip hop in the mainstream world is over-represented by music with this content. Most hip hop of all contents ends up being contrived and created to fit in the box of the artists image or marketing plan. I don’t think violence, drugs, and sex are inherently something wrong with hip hop either. These are things that are powerful forces in a lot of people’s lives. As long as the artist is being honest then I have no problem with it. But often the things the artists are talking about have no reflection on their life. While some see it as just entertainment, I see it as hip hop becoming a parody of it’s own misrepresented image. The music should be judged based on it’s quality as art, not based on it’s relative cultural significance, not based on it’s status as “underground” or “mainstream”. Most music is bad regardless of how famous the person that makes it is or what they’re talking about. Hopefully people can respect what I do because I’m always honest on record. I didn’t grow up in the streets. It’s ok for me to white, jewish, and from a middle class background and be involved in this music as long as the music doesn’t come across as “hey look at me, i’m a white, middle class jew, and i’m rapping!!…Isn’t that sooo weird and cool!” I think a lot of that music is beginning to be pushed to the forefront and I think it reeks of entitlement. Long story short, I think hip hop is constantly growing, evolving, and spreading out into so many different styles of music. I think we’re starting to see some emergence in the mainstream of more artists whose music is of a personal nature. I’ve never seen our style as an obstacle to success. I’m certain it will be the key to it.
Tunji: I wouldn’t say it’s hard – in fact I think it makes things easier for us because we stand out from our peers in terms of content and our approach to making music. I mean, we rap about violence, drugs and sex too, but in ways that relate to our daily lives. We may not be glorifying these things in our music, but they’re definitely a part of the world we live in and what we see, so we touch on those topics in our own way. In the end, I know people will accept us because our music is dope and it’s real, not because of where we are or aren’t from. People like to group hip hop into separate categories and act as if there is some sort of silent competition between “real” hip hop and “fake” hip hop, “mainstream” or “underground.” None of those labels have anything to do with the quality of the music and ultimately, none of that stuff matters. What counts is the music you make and the sincer
ity of your songs, because the listener can always tell what’s real and what isn’t. If a rapper came up bustin’ guns and selling crack, then he has every right to speak on his struggle in an honest way. It becomes a problem when people feel as if they need to conform to these stereotypes and they stop being true to themselves in order to fit these preconceived roles. I think the face of hip hop is changing, and more and more new artists are unafraid of being themselves and speaking truthfully about their lives and experiences. It’s an exciting time to be a new artist right now.
WYDU: On So Far you got a lot of singing in the hooks? Why? That’s not negative, I love it, I just wanna know!
Toby: I think we’re both influenced by a wide variety of music. We really like the process of song writing and trying to create songs with a wide appeal without watering down any of it’s impact or content. There tends to be a lot of melody in the beats and that inspires melody in the song writing. My short answer….we have a lot of singing in our songs because….well…because they’re songs!
Tunji: Honestly, if I could sing, I’d probably be a singer now. Since childhood, I always loved singing, way before I got into hip hop…I was just never really good at it. We work with a lot of extremely musical producers, and a lot of the beats they give us inspire the singing hooks. It was never an intentional thing or something we agreed upon to be our style, it just kinda worked out that way. I think the singing hooks help us appeal to a broader range of folks because we keep it catchy, but the verses are always going to be extremely strong lyrically to balance the music out.
WYDU: How did you get in touch with producers like M-Phazes, 9th Wonder or Kno, who layed a beautiful sound-floor for your collection?
Toby: 9th Wonder wasn’t involved in the So Far project although he did produce some tracks for us a few years ago. It remains to be seen what we will do with those. I think we initially got in touch with M-Phazes through a friend of ours named Johnny Five. This was about 5 or 6 years ago at least. M-Phazes had also worked with a few other mutual friends and so we had been aware of each other for a while before we really started working on music with him. He’s definitely one of the most talented emerging producers on the scene. I think I first bought beats from Kno around 8 years ago. I just hit him up at the time and we worked out a deal. Our personal and musical relationship has evolved over the years. In the past 4 years or so we’ve become good friends with him and the rest of Cunninlynguists. They’ve always looked out for us and we look up to them as big brothers. We have infinite amount of respect for him and A Piece Of Strange productions and we will be doing plenty of work with them in the future.
Tunji: A friend of mine from New Orleans introduced me to a lot of dope producers who were posting on the UndergroundHiphop.com messageboards around 2002 or so. Along with M-Phazes, we were able to link up with Decap and Illmind as well. I met Kno on the internet too – he used to steal music from my shared folder when I was in college. When I was a senior I got a bunch of money from my school and threw a big concert with CunninLynguists, Little Brother and Cee-Lo, with Inverse opening. That concert helped solidify the relationship with Kno and the CunninLynguists, and also led to us working with 9th.
WYDU: What are your influences? I think you got a really unique sound!
Tunji: Thank you man. For me, it started with Afrobeat and Motown soul, so I have to give props to Fela Kuti, King Sunny Ade, the Jackson 5, Smokey Robinson, Jackie Wilson, Diana Ross and artists like that who laid the foundation for my musical knowledge. I’m a huge Beatles fan. Stevie Wonder and James Brown as well. As far as hip hop goes, my biggest influences are Jay-Z, Nas, Common, 2Pac, Big L, Black Thought and The Roots, Lauryn Hill, Black Star, Eminem, and then of course the newer artists like Atmosphere, Brother Ali, CunninLynguists, Kanye West and Little Brother. The biggest overall influence however just comes from the ups and downs of daily life and what we’re going through.
Toby: My musical influences range from blues, classic rock, soul, hip hop, world music, and even some country…I grew up listening to a lot of blues and country because my dad is from the south. My mom listened to more classic rock ie. the Beatles, Led Zeppelin. etc.. and i grew up exploring music and gaining huge influences from the likes of Nina Simone, Bob Marley, Michael Jackson, John Lennon, Marvin Gaye, Sam Cooke, Tupac, Common, Cee-Lo, Fela Kuti, James Brown, Muddy Waters, and all kinds of random music from around the world that my ears have picked up over the years. I think So Far was just a tiny glimpse into what we want to do musically. Part of the reason we put it together is that we have ideas for what we want our music to be like in the future and we didn’t have the time, money, or recognition to be able to put it together. So I look foward to continuing to evolve our sound and really set Inverse apart as something unique and hopefully powerful.
WYDU: Which albums were your favourites in 07?
Toby: CunninLynguists – Dirty Acres, Jay-Z – American Gangster, Brother Ali – The Undisputed Truth, Amy Winehouse – Back To Black, Sharon Jones & The Dap Kings – 100 Days, 100 Nights
Tunji: Amy Winehouses’s Back To Black, Blu & Exile’s Below The Heavens, Brother Ali’s The Undisputed Truth, Jay-Z’s American Gangster, Radiohead’s In Rainbows, Talib Kweli’s Eardrum, Kanye West’s Graduation and CunninLynguists’ Dirty Acres
WYDU: Since I got “I Believe” as a ringtone for 2 months now and you told me you are going to shoot a video for that, please tell me what’s up with that? Any other things going on with tracks from “So Far”?
Tunji: We’re going to start off with a vibrant, creative, colorful video for “HipHopSoul” to introduce us visually to the world, then we’ll follow with a more personal clip for “I Believe”. Besides having a full length release in the marketplace, music video is really the greatest marketing tool any artist can have right now, so we’re trying to be proactive about it. We live in LA, so we’re lucky enough to be around a lot of young, hungry, creative cats who can help us transfer our musical vision in a visual way. We’re also working on a couple of licensing opportunities with our music being used in feature films and on television. Overall though, we’re trying to switch gears from promoting So Far to finishing and figuring out ways to market the full length album Long Day’s Journey.
Toby: We’re still planning to shoot those videos for “HipHopSoul” and “I Believe.” We just gotta make sure we do them right and not do a video just to have a video. Hopefully we can get those done and released by mid to late summer.
WYDU: What are your main goals? What do you want to reach with your music?
Toby: I just want to enjoy making and performing music. Hopefully the world will experience that same feeling on the other end of it. I want to keep evolving as an artist and as a writer. I want to keep our music moving forwards as we experience the give and take of growing from our music and our music growing from us. I hope that a lot of people will find something to connect to in our music. I think the themes of the songs are coming from a place that everyone can relate to regardless of their race, gender, background, or nationality. I think the idea of just being honest with oneself and the world around you is a message in itself. We’re both educated people and sometimes we have that desire to teach. However, people don’t want to be preached to or condescended. So the best way to reflect those messages are through our own experiences and what they teach us as individuals. I think wisdom is more easily absorbed that way. The only true revolution is a personal one. If people are more at peace with themselves and the world around them, then it’s a better a world…..and we’re just starting with ourselves.
Tunji: When we started doing this, we just wanted to express ourselves through our songs and talk honestly about the world we see, and that motivation hasn’t changed. Right now our goal is just to continue to do our thing while remaining true to ourselves and the music we want to make. Sometimes it’s a struggle to keep everything moving in the right direction. We both have nine-to-five day jobs, families, friends and social lives, so this music is really a labor of love. I’m a dreamer, so I’d like to reach the whole world, and I really think we can do it. We have a really varied cross-section of fans because although we’re a hip hop group, the themes we bring up and the musicality in our songs attract a lot of casual fans and non-hip hop listeners. I want our sound to continuously evolve, and I want to keep connecting with other creative people to make music that’s true to ourselves and our experiences.
WYDU: Are you still working on your debut album or is it pretty much done?
What can we expect?
Toby: We’re still working on the album. Now that we’ve released So Far, we have a little more power to make the album the way we envisioned it. So we’re just getting back into working on it. It’s probably about half done. I would expect a lot more honest, soulful, music. We will continue to expand our sound and dig deeper into ourselves and the world around us with the lyrics. It’ll be more an album instead a collection of songs so it’ll definitely be more cohesive than So Far. I think it’ll leave our footprint in the hip hop world that hopefully will be the first of many.
Tunji: The album is a lot more well rounded than So Far. We’re going to touch on a wider range of topics and bring you more into our world. We’re also probably gonna put out a few songs this summer in between So Far and Long Day’s Journey so people keep talking.
WYDU: I think Hip Hop music like you do is on a rise, cause it’s music most people can relate to. I wish you the best of luck for the future.
Toby: Thanks man. Hip Hop is rising and falling at the same time, just depends on where you’re looking. It’s definitely a new and exciting age for independent minded artists. Hopefully we can contribute to the rise and positive evolution of the artform.
Tunji: There are so many new artists out there making great music, and with the way the indsutry is changing, I think the quality is going to rise to the top. Hip hop has an incredibly bright future and hopefully we can do our part to shape the next chapter.
Please check their myspace page!
If you haven’t downloaded “So far (The Collection) yet, you can do it here for free
If you wanna purchase it on itunes, go to their myspace page and click on the banner!
So until next time!