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Artist Spotlight: Sum

by Travis on June 6, 2009

I’ve come to the conclusion that you can only get so creative in hip hip hop. Hip hop is like a tree, and you can only get so far from the root before it turns into something else. But, and I’m not just saying this, one of the most creative artists I’ve heard in quite some time is Sum. Sum has this great ability to bring creativity to the board while still keeping his footing to the traditional hip hop sounds. Make sense? No? Then check out his hip hop opus, The Nobody Hole, which might just be one of the most creative hip hop projects I’ve ever heard. It might not be for everyone, if you like your hip hop with gats, strippers and keys being slang on the corner, then it won’t be for you, but if you just like something that is out of the norm, The Nobody Hole is that.

Sum also has an unique marketing startegy with his The, which people can subscribe to his newsletter, in which he offers up information, music, and when his albums drop, you are the first to cop it, free of charge.

All this lead me up to want to talk to the man, and this is what went down…..

A trailer for The Lone Wolf:

The Lone Wolf (Album Trailer) from Sum Patten on Vimeo.

A place to listen to The Nobody Hole:

W: What’s good? Before we get to deep into this, how about a little generic introduction and a bit of background for the good people?

Sum: Well, my name is Sum and I hail from a little place called Charlotte, North Carolina but I have a home in just about every region of the States. I’ve done stints in Atlanta, New York City, Illinois and Los Angeles (which is where I’m headquartered now). I’m an MC/songsmith with more projects than I can shake a stick at, and I run my own business called TheGoodLook.Net that’s all about empowering independent artists. I’ve been called the “Andre 3000 of the underground” and “Talib Kweli’s favorite MC”, but I personally think at least one of those statements is way off.

W: Reading up on you, you seem to be the complex fella, one that would be interesting to rap about the meaning of life after a few cold ones. How does these views that you have on life help you as an artist?

S:I’ve never met a person that wasn’t complex, to be honest. Can’t recall one, anyway. You sit down long enough with anybody and you’ll find a deeply injured and/or blessed person with a story to tell. I pretty much use my art to comb through my issues. I deal with desire, lust, attachments, fears, arrogance, ego, compassion and all the other shit that make humans tick. I don’t know what else I’m supposed to do with the craft. That was the long answer to your question. The short answer would be that one of my biggest views on life is that you’re only as limited as your imagination is. And that’s the mission statement for my work ethic and art.

W: I read in a previous interview that you are a “beer lover”, being a lover of fine brews myself, what flavors are you into? Tried anything good lately?

S: I love a good stout these days. Guinness is my good ol’ standby, and I might shake it up and drink a Black-and-Tan, especially in the Summer. Some of my favorite brews are Brooklyn Lager, Chimay (draught) and good ol’ Stella Artois. I took a break from beer for a while because it was starting to look like I had a baby anaconda wrapped around my waist…..but I always come back. Mmmmmmm……beer.

W: You mentioned The Good Look, a site that is a plethora of knowledge for indie artists as well as a reference guide to other things music related. What is your goal with the site?

TheGoodLook.Net At-A-Glance from Sum Patten on Vimeo.

S: Simple….the first goal is to distribute my music in a way that isn’t intrusive on fans and fosters us building a community, rather than just the “wham-bam thank you ma’am” approach of selling music that’s gotten us to this point. The second goal is to empower every independent artistic entity I come in contact with everyone from artists or entrepreneurs, to bloggers (like yourself). There is a nation of independent-minded people out there, and I firmly believe that if we can unify and recognize our collective power, we can move mountains.

W: The Good Look also has a subscription type of thing that your fans can subscribe to. It’s an interesting concept. How is that working out? What are some of the benefits to subscribing?

S: The subscription-based model is really cool. It’s the smartest thing I’ve ever done, and I think the people who support me appreciate the relationship we’re building for $3/month. For one, I get a monthly deposit to my account through a deal that I brokered with no middle-man. There is no agent, no label, no distributor…just me and my subscribers. So it’s much more intimate.

Secondly, it’s a low-risk investment for my supporters. As opposed to them dropping $12 for an album they might not be in love with, they can just support my movement for $3/month and get the music as a membership perk, like SkyMiles. Then when I finally do drop an official album, they don’t have to pay
for it, they’ve invested in it’s creation. It gives the music a little bit more value, because we all took part in making it happen.

W: I’m a firm believer in that just because something is progressive and original, doesn’t automatically make it good. You though, seem to have been able to walk that fine line of being extremely creative AND still keep it within the realms of what I think of hip hop is. How do you view what you do and keep it creative, yet keep it “hip-hop” (whatever the hell that means)…

S: That’s a great damn question. Even though I champion progressiveness and experimentalism, I also believe there’s been a lot of bullshit that’s gotten a pass just because it’s bearing the “progressive” flag. However, I’m an even firmer believer that it takes all kinds of people and questionable art to help make the world go ’round. Without people doing wack shit, the rest of us wouldn’t be as inspired to keep fighting the good fight. As for myself, I was blessed with a healthy amount of perspective and conservatism. I will go to the far reaches of Outer Space, but only if I’m having fun, I know that I’m on to something real and that I won’t get lost out there. A lot of cats do different and experimental shit just for shock value, and I wish they would choke on a fish bone. As a matter of fact, it sounds like that’s what they’re doing alot of times in their songs. Choking on bones. They bother me more than the mainstream crap on the radio.

W: You are going the band route with The Milky Way, what are you attempting by going that route, and how does a live backing change you as an artist?

S: Well, The Milky Way started from me being competitive. I always knew for years that I was going to one day form a band, I just didn’t know how or when. I was also wrestling with my issues with hip-hop bands. Most bands with a rapper on lead vocals suck. They all have this kind of corny, light-in-the-balls, jazzy feel….and that aint me. So I spent a few years wrestling with how to make my band aggressive, edgy and different. One day last year, there was a small chance that I might be going on tour with The Pharcyde, who I know travel with a band. That was a cue to put my band together…..because I knew I couldn’t compete with them (or any other truly professional act) with just two turntables and a microphone. I wanted to blow The Pharcyde and any other live act I shared a stage with out of the water. So I formed The Milky Way. And how did I solve the riddle of keeping us gritty, progressive and one-of-a-kind? The Milky Way is a band of seasoned hip-hop producers and DJs…and they’re all my family. It’s not just a bunch of musicians I auditioned from Craigslist. They’re all homies. My wife even sings backup in the band. We’re a dangerous bunch. I also always knew that I wanted my albums to evolve beyond just beats and rhymes and I would need a band in order to make that happen. And here we are.

As far as how it changes you as an artist, you pay more attention to how what you’re doing is going to translate into live performance. You also get more intimate with the musical elements of songwriting and the layers that instruments provide. I love song arrangement and directing live performance like theater, so this is perfect for me. Pretty soon, there won’t be anymore Sum as a soloist, just all Milky Way.

W: The track, “Chuck Norris is on Drugs,” is a hilarious track. Were you ever afraid of Chuck finding out and going, well, chuck norris on you?

S: No way. Matter of fact, I say a little prayer everyday in hopes that one day he will hear the song and want to join my band.

W: The Nobody Hole was something that was incredibly complex for the hip hop genre, but it was great. How did that project come together?

S: The Nobody Hole is STILL coming together. It’s my marathon project that builds brick-by-brick in the background while I go off on war campaigns. It’s like how the captain of the ship works on that tiny, intricate ship model inside the jar before he goes to sleep every night. The Nobody Hole is my little big intricate ship. I wrote it between 2005-2006 in a dark haunted basement and just allowed my imagination to take me where it wanted. My good friend Badtouch provided the soundscape. For many years people have told me I’m the most visual rapper they know. I wanted to test the limits of that talent and see if I could paint a movie in your head using rhymes. Mission accomplished. Now I’m trying to turn the experience into an actual motion picture.

W: Were you ever afraid that it might go over the average hip hop fans head? Or was it even aimed for that type of audience?

S: Hey man, I was reachin for the stars. Couldn’t worry about whose head it was gonna go over. All I kept thinking about was the people and children it might one day INSPIRE. I was too excited to worry, I was creating a universe.

You raise an interesting point though. I often feel like the “average hip-hop head” is a species whose intellect is underestimated. I consider myself a pretty average head. I grew up on all the Native Tongue shit, the Roots, OutKast, Common, Boot Camp Clik, Hiero, Alkaholiks, Ultramag and Kool Keith, Goodie Mobb, Wu-Tang, KRS, Rakim, Run DMC and (insert Golden Age name) just like everybody else. That was some complicated, literary and intricate shit goin on. Layered rhyme patterns, metaphors, experimental usage of speech and syntax, etc….hip-hop educated a lot of people, me included. The average hip-hop head is a very smart person, and I never underestimate that. I think the only thing that truly goes over the average hip-hop listeners head is music with no soul. I feel like as long as I keep soul and personality in my works, I can’t lose.

W: Are we going to be hearing some new projects in the hopefully not so distant future?

S: Well, my
new collab project with producer Belief is called THE LONE WOLF. That drops on Tuesday, June 9th at all online retailers. It’s a really personal project with nine songs of me exploring my own personal Blues and personal storytelling chambers. It’s amazingly epic to be only 28 minutes long. There’s tons of other new stuff coming down the pipe as well, so just stay tuned. I’ll probably have a new release every quarter at this rate.

W: Anything else you’d like to add before signing off?

S: Nah man, I think I’ve probably talked your damn ear off already! Thanks for the interview, stay tuned for The Lone Wolf, and if you’re interested in The Good Look, you can subscribe on the site for $3/month and become part of the independent revolution. Peace!

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