One of the greatest labels, in my personal opinion, was the mid 90′s New York label, Fondle ‘Em Records. Ran by NY radio legend, Bobbito Garcia, the label was instrumental in releasing some of the greatest independent music of the mid 90′s and really was the jump-off point for a lot of the independent labels that would be toward the end of the decade. They released everyone from the Juggaknots (a personal favorite of mine) to MF Doom. Some classic albums would come out of the label, but one EP that would have underground kids clamoring for more, which would never come.
The Siah & Yeshua DapoED EP, “The Visualz”, would drop in 1996. The smooth, jazzy beats and intricate lyricism from Brooklyn would become a favorite and a well-sought after EP. Not many copies of the EP would be pressed up and would soon become some what of a collector’s item. It would only be released on wax, leaving prices for the eBay nerds charging $100-150 for an original pressing. Siah would go on a sabbatical of sorts, and Yesh would go on to form Wee Bee Foolish. There was never another release from the talented duo. Until now.
Earlier this year, Traffic Entertainment, re released, the EP for the first time on CD. The Anthology also included a large chunk of extra material from the two MC’s, both as a group and on the solo tip. It’s easily my favorite re release of the year, since I only had the EP as an mp3 file myself and it was one of my favorite works of that decade. Also included is an incredible booklet, done up by Bobbito himself, with lots of pictures and insight.
This interview was done for Peak Street Magazine, a dope mag out of Australia back in April. It will always hold dear to me, since it’s my first full feature interview to be published. After numerous rescheduling, I sat down with Siah, and we talked.
From Issue Two of Peak Street, by Travis Glave (52-55)
WYDU: I’m pleased to be talking with Siah, thanks for your time. Would you care to enlighten readers that might not be familiar with who you are and give us some of your background?
Siah: My MC name was Siah. I kind of retired the name and that part of my life, but we have a new project, “Anthology” coming out of our music, with my friend Yeshea. The newest song dates back to 2002 and contains about six to seven years worth of output. I started making hip-hop music in high school, well actually before that, but as a serious practitioner of the art, it was in high school. I continued the serious pursuit into college. Since that time, I’ve done work on some live music, but have not consistently kept up with it. I’ve turned my attention to live instrumentation; the piano, percussion and other things as well as different musical genres as well. Nothing really professional, but just things to maintain my interest. Basically I’m thirty-one now and enjoying life.
W: Let’s jump into your early beginnings with Yeshea. You had the privilege to sign to Fondle ‘Em, which at the time was THE indie label in hip hop and really the one to start the indie label boom. How was it to be apart of that movement?
Siah: A lot of things were coming together at that point. I had hooked up with Yeshea DaPoed, now known as Yesh while we lived in adjacent neighborhoods in Brooklyn. We had some mutual friends and one summer we met while hanging out on the boardwalk and the pool halls, just running around, as young kids tend to do. We found we had a lot in common in terms of a desire to make imaginative, creative and challenging hip-hop music. We were both big fans of the Stretch Armstrong & Bobbito radio show, which was the focal point of a lot of young hip hop enthusiasts who were less taken by the mainstream music of the mid 90′s. Basically we just started hanging out and writing rhymes. I also had some experience producing tracks, just on a very casual basis in high school with a couple of my earlier partners. That gave me a little background on making beats and producing. Yesh also had a little rig in his house, so he too also had some background in producing. We were both on the same level; we were both MCs who liked to make beats. My other friend from childhood, Jonathan Adler, had just transferred back to New York City to pursue college and had picked up a job at a jingle house and wanted to do some work with me since had access to the stage in his free time. I had been working with Yesh a bit, so I brought him in with me when Jonathan approached me and one by one the tracks for the Siah & Yeshea EP were created and coming together. At the same time, we were going to the open mic shows that were hosted by Bobbito. He was hearing me grow and develop as an artist. After hearing some of the tracks I was putting together with Ed (aka Yeshea) I got the bug to do an independent pressing of my music, much like some people I knew such as Company Flow and other folks who were putting out their own records. So we had it in mind to do it ourselves too, since it seemed doable. Once you have the music the fan-base would come. But Bobbito offered to put us out on Fondle ‘Em, which was just starting to emerge, putting out the Juggaknots an
d the such and we figured it was a good idea.
W: You actually touched upon a question I was going to ask later. You mentioned Jon Adler, was that the only project he has worked on, was with you guys?
Siah: Jonathan Adler? No, in fact Jonathan Adler went on to work as an engineer and producer to a number of hip-hop groups. He won a Grammy for a track he did with India. Arie and worked with a number of people in the hip-hop industry. He would also go on to produce a couple rock band’s records—The Telephones and another band he is working with. In hip-hop as a producer and co-producer yes, Jon’s highlight is our EP, but he’s had a pretty long career in the music field and continues to have a long career in music. He was sort of the co-producer and tracking engineer for the Siah & Yeshea EP and project.
W: Wow, interesting. The beats on the EP were great; they had that jazzy, laid back feel to them.
Siah: Thanks, yeah, it was really a collaboration between the three of us. We all had ideas for beats that we brought to the table. Between Yesh’s crates and mine, and Jon’s musical ability as a composer and producer, we were really able to knock something out.
W: So you and Yesh were able to have a lot of input on the albums musical direction as well?
Yesh: The production was a three-way thing. Ed produced “The Mystery” which was his solo cut. Jon produced “Gravity” and I produced “No Soles Dopest Opus” with Jon. “The Visulaz” was almost Ed exclusively. The rest was the three of us. A lot of the samples were from Ed’s crates, and I kind of orchestrated the whole thing while Jon put it together. It was a collaborative effort. If you have heard the new Anthology project, you will know that the EP is just one part of it. It contains twenty-one cuts and ranges from our solo endeavors to some of the other collaborations we did. Truly, from 1995 to 2002 is what we are looking at. You will see a development over time with some of our experiments and different things we tried. The EP and it’s sound is a foundation for all of it, though.
W: There seemed to be a great chemistry between the two of you, you played off each other well and the EP was lyrically tight all the way around, which I always view as a group having great chemistry, was that the case?
Siah: Yes, we were really good friends as well. Like I said, we came up in the same general neighborhoods. We hung out a lot, and we loved making music. We were both a little quirky and a little more off-beat than a lot of the hip-hop acts and mainstream artists that were out at the time. I think we had an off-beat sense of humor that contributed to the album as well, through our lyrics and the mood that we approached the music. We were serious, but we still shared a lot of the same jokes and were good friends out of the studio. That contributed to the sense of unity and a sense of cohesiveness of the record.
W: Yes, cohesiveness is the word I was looking for. The song, “A Day Like Any Other”, is kind of an old school favorite among people our age. It’s untraditional in the fact that it goes on for eleven plus minutes. That goes against the general thought that you can’t make a song over five minutes long or you’ll lose the listeners attention. Can you discuss the concept behind that song? The change in beats throughout almost makes it a musical or the such….
Siah: The title was to reflect that we do this everyday. We spent six months on that song. It was intensive work and I don’t really know how it got so big. We wanted to do an adventure story of sorts. We knew we had to resolve it at some point, we had to end it at some point. I’m not going to tell you what we saw at the end, unless we get the cover of the magazine (laughs)….
W: Yeah, the editor wanted me to ask that question already…..
Siah: (laughing) Tell him we can negotiate. I don’t think it’s that big of deal, it’s kind of anti-climatic. The reason I mentioned it, the song needed and end but we kind of just kept going with it. Part of that song’s theme was my experience as a vivacious reader of adventure novels and series, from the Wizard of Oz, to Narnia to Dragonlance, all these series. I think that when we combine that with growing up in Brooklyn and getting involved in hip hop, I just desired to do our own adventure story. This was a time when commercial hip-hop was dominating the airwaves and we could not identify with it. We styled ourselves as being interested in authentic music in comparability with the Native Tongues and the less synthesized sounding music. Also the fact of that’s who we were, kind of quirky and off-beat to begin with, contributed to that song was well. Many of the themes in that song were kind of counter-cultural and countered the thought of mainstream hip-hop. The actual vehicles for telling that story were the different environments which came in the form of the different beats involved with that song. The different beats reflected the different environments in which we were transversing through the song with little adventures in each environment. The structure of the song is like a structure of a narrative or story. That’s how I would describe it. It’s also a story about my friendship with Ed and our adventures in this music in this world of underground hip-hop. It was truly a labor of love.
W: Truly one of the more creative songs in the history of hip-hop. The original EP is something of a lost treasure, with copies going for well over a hundred bucks on e-Bay. What are your thoughts on that?
Siah: (laughing). Hundred-fifty is the most it’s ever sold for. You know what? It’s something I’m proud of. It’s unfortunate that people are gouging others who might not have heard of us at that time, but maybe that’s not the case all the time. It’s something special, something nice to know. I think it was interesting how it all happened, and by sticking to the decision to just press X thousand amount of copies and stop it after that and this is the consequence of that. It’s something to be proud of the rest of my life.
W: Was there any reason for it just being an EP? Was there ever a full-length album planned?
Siah: We never had a full length planned. We were just doing songs. Song after song, then at the end of that, we were just exhausted. There was never a full length planned. We got in big debates on whether to release a single or not. I was adamantly against it at the time; I wanted it to stay one organic whole. I guess that was part of the organic hip-hop theme we had. That was the only conversation about the structure at the time. At the time when it was ready to finish, we just wanted to finish.
W: You didn’t drop much material after that EP. I think you both worked on a couple songs afterwards and Yesh of course had his other projects. Was there any reason we didn’t hear much from the group as a whole after the release of the EP?
Siah: We both did a solo records, we wanted to test the waters so to say. We did the Deeper Concentration collaboration album, then I went off to India and Nepal, just running around for a few months. Ed picked up some other musical partners in the form of Wee Bee Foolish. I got back and we were trying to reconstitute things, talking to different labels and looking at different opportunities. Over time, we did record some tracks together, as evident on the Anthology. Ed moved to another part of Brooklyn and I guess I just lost the fire. My interest in piano music was growing at the time. It took a couple years to realize that we were not going to make another record together. I think we sort of had that plan, but in the end it wasn’t going to happen. We didn’t really ride the momentum as we could have. We went over to London and recorded a bunch of tracks there. Two consecutive winters I went out there, but I don’t think we rode the momentum very well, but there is a reason for everything. I can’t pinpoint why we didn’t continue on. My desire to do different and more things with music, in instrumental music, played a part in that. It’s a different kind of challenge. I didn’t realize it until later, but that’s one reason. Also I was getting tired of the scene and the vanity of it all. It happens in every “scene”, that just happened to be the scene I was involved in at the time.
W: Let’s discuss the release of the Anthology LP on Traffic. It’s got a pretty good buzz on the internet right now, did you two have any say in the final product that Traffic put out?
Siah: Yes, we were definitely involved in the process and we are very happy with contribution and support. How this came about is Noah (?), a radio host and re-release specialist was the person that carried this load from it’s basic obscurity to this re-release, and we’d like to thank him for that. I’m happy and pleased with Traffic’sTraffic. The booklet included in the release looks great. I hope people pick it up. I think they are going to enjoy what they hear and see. It’s like a window in time. There are a number of tracks included that have never been heard—I can guarantee that. You can see our time as solo artists; those are included on the release as well.
W: Out of those side tracks, are there any of them that really stand out to you, or mean something to you personally?
Siah: There are two cuts that I had plans to do a whole electronic project with, called “The Hairy Bird Suite”, or at least it was going to be called that. The two songs, “Hairy Bird Intro” and “Hairy Bird Reprise”, were supposed to be apart of that as a larger “movement” of sorts. Like I said, it didn’t get going and there is no centerpiece, just those two pieces. Those are interesting to me because I really got to explore an abstract type music. There are some other things on there that should be an interest to people. It’s fun to go back and listen to this stuff. It’s nice to have some a sort of document attesting to your perspective in a certain point in time. I feel fortunate to have such a document in this form of media.
W: That’s an excellent lead to the next question, which you kind of already answered. Looking back at the project some ten years leader, obviously it is something you proud of…
Siah: It’s certainly something I’m proud of. I did have a little hesitancy with this re release thing and getting deeper involved. All the things I didn’t like, such as being in the limelight, however small it might have been, it still was a bit uncomfortable. I’ve always loved the music, but never loved the music business. That all kind of reoccurred to me when this re release was happening. It was a wonderful accomplishment, something to tell your grand-kids about. One thing I hope is that it’s not the last thing I do in music. I still work hard in music. I don’t have any general aspiration, but I’m going to have something I want to say again musically and hopefully there will be an audience for that.
W: Are you still involved in hip-hop at all? Do you still follow it at all?
Siah: The last song I did was in 2005 and I put up on my myspace page. I did the lyrics in Arabic, Hebrew and English about the Israeli/Arabic conflict. I haven’t had major inspirations to do anything in the traditional sense as far as melody and lyrics and the such. I definitely still listen to the hip-hop that I loved in the ’90′s and late 80′s, The Juice Crew, Native Tongue, Nas, those guys. I don’t keep up with what is currently coming out. I really kind of like to spend my time digging into musical history and listening to different genres of music, West African music and B
razilian music among other kinds. I’m always interested in expanding my musical horizons. Hip Hop will always resonate in me in a way that no musical form can, but yet I do not have the desire to keep up with the latest releases. It’s really something that is connected to a time in my life that unfortunately has passed.
W: Great, best of luck with your aspirations. Do you have any last parting words you’d like to say?
Siah: Thank you for your interest. I think the readership, if they are reading this, they probably know that good music is not defined by genres, good art is not according to categories. It knows no bounds and can appear in any place and in any forms. I always keep my open for the new, exciting and fresh. I hope this generation continues to do so and I have no doubt they will.
W: It’s been really good talking. Thank you for your music and your time.
Siah: Thank you.
CLASSIC NYC HIP-HOP FROM THE FONDLE ‘EM RECORDS LABEL DIGITALLY RE-MASTERED & RELEASED ON CD FOR THE FIRST TIME
01 THE VISUALZ
03 GLASS BOTTOM BOAT
04 NO SOLES DOPEST OPUS
05 THE MYSTERY
06 A DAY LIKE ANY OTHER
09 THE HEAD BOP
10 VICTIM OF MY OWN IMAGINATION
11 STRETCH ARMSTRONG AND BOBBITO 89.9 SIAH FREESTYLE
12 HAIRY BIRD INTRO
13 HAIRY BIRD REPRISE
14 THE CURE FOR STAGNATION
16 STRETCH ARMSTRONG AND BOBBITO 89.9 YESHUA FREESTYLE
18 HALFTIME SHOW WITH DJ ECLIPSE 89.1 SIAH AND YESHUA FREESTYLE
19 GFYH INTRO
20 IT’S GOOD FOR YOUR HEALTH
Siah and Yeshua Dapo ED… A name that brings back memories of a time when independent Hip Hop was at its zenith. They released their 1996 debut vinyl-only EP “The Visualz” on Bobbito Garcia’s famous record label Fondle ‘Em Records. The EP featured rapping from the group’s two MCs, production from Jon Adler, and a guest appearance by Ken Bugaloo. Siah and Yesh also went on to record various solo tracks and the duo appeared on numerous compilations and as featured artists on a plethera of tracks. Now, for the first time in its entirity, the group’s collective work is digitally re-mastered and released on CD. The deluxe package contains never before seen photographs, unreleased and rare tracks, live show flyers and liner notes by Bobbito Garcia. A true collector’s item!
“Glory Be. Fondle ‘Em do it again. Wide funk vibes and Birdland dwarfisms mixed up with inspiried verbiage… for full-on, beat- switching story-telling, check the 11-minute epic, ‘A Day Like Any Other’. Bliss.” — Muzik (Vital Release)
“Siah & Yeshua have heated up the Hip Hop crucible with an ambitious and creative EP… the chemistry between the two MCs flow like liquid lightning, especially on ‘A Day Like Any Other,’ their 11 minute tour de force of verbal tag-teaming. As well, [they] whip up jazzy brews on the musical tip, drawing from influences as far and wide as Igor Stravinsky, Herbie Mann and Quincy Jones… a rarely-heard, amazing effort that quenches the creative thirst of both mind and ear. Siah & Yeshua represent the fullest, underground Hip Hop at its height of cutting-edge creativity.” — O-Dub, URB (The Next 100)
“If you are into Hip Hop that borders on the cutting edge musically, then you’ll definitely want to check for [this]. Standout joints include the 11-minute beat excursion “A Day Like Any Other,” “The Visualz” and “No Soles’ Dopest Opus.” This record is definitely not for the one-dimensional fan of Hip Hop.” – Beni B, (The Vinyl Exchange)