About three or four years ago I came to the conclusion that hip hop was never going to be what it used to be and I should just get used to it. It’s never going to be the 80′s again and it’s never going to be the 90′s again. I’m okay with that now. That doesn’t mean that I still don’t long for that sound and when I find a group that is doing their thing these days that brings back that authentic hip hop sound and does it well, I’m totally on board with it. That’s what the group Grand Invincible does, they bring back that authentic, early 90′s golden age rap shit and not only do they bring it back, they bring it back the right way. Consisting of producer Eons One and MC Luke Sick, the Bay Area duo brings the dusted out samples for the beats and old school rhymes for the lyrics. Their album, “Ask The Dust”, is one of the best albums that I’ve had submitted to me this year (right up there with Drumz & Llingo’s Blak Market). A must hear for any cat longing for years past, the group is trying to keep the sound of the golden age alive while the “matrix” of the new cats is bustling around them.
Of course, we sat down with the duo and asked them seemingly pointless questions that they were nice enough to answer…..
World Premier tracks from their upcoming album, Cold Hand In a Dice Game
Grand Invincible – User Revolt
Grand Invincible – Eons On The Cut
WYDU: What’s the history behind Grand Invincible?
Luke Sick: I knew of Eons One from him playing guitar as a.k.a. “Kung-Fu Dan” in the grindcore band Spazz, but I first met Eons at Stanford University’s college radio station, KZSU, in Palo Alto, CA back in the wayback days. Neither of us went to school there or anything, but the station was a great resource for local DIY bands as well as local burnouts with an affinity for fucked up recording styles and dusty vinyl. Plenty nights of “forties and blunts, kid!” out in front of that motherfucker listening to whoever was fuckin it up on the airwaves getting down for the people. Eons had a show down there called the “Nosotros Project.”
Then we played a live show together at a tranny bar in SF called Kimo’s, with a punk-as-hell live spot upstairs. Eons was djing for a group called Shadow People from Redwood City and I was in Sacred Hoop at the time, I think Third Sight also played that night. Sometime after Sacred Hoop released “Sleepover,” Vrse Murphy moved back to Arizona, and me and Eons linked up to do a project called Underbucket which was like the premature abortion of G.I.
Then I moved to Arizona to record Sacred Hoop’s “Go Hogwild,” and Eons got into a hardcore band called Funeral Shock. Then I got homesick for the Bay and returned to find Eons just recovered from being hospitalized for a life-threatening bloodclot in his leg. I think that shit like really changed his perspective on making shit and getting it out and all that, because he really came back with a vengeance. He basically started vomiting raw, dusted-as-fuck beats. And his whole PMA (as Bad Brains would say) really lit a fire under my ass to really go harder with the digging and the rapping and the DIY releases of vinyl and comic books and all that. Sometimes I see it as like, Eons defeating the bloodclot made us Grand Invincible, pretty fuckin’ mythical, huh?
DJ Eons One: In November 2007 I was diagnosed with deep vein thrombosis in my leg as a result of some broken toes. I passed out at home after having a mild stroke and when I went to the hospital they told me I had blood clots floating around in my lungs. Got to hand it to almost dying, it really puts your life into perspective. When I was released I was hell bent on making beats and trying to get them heard. I was actually talking a lot to the Mighty V.I.C. who told me my production was “like a breath of fresh air.” Coming from a guy who worked on “Street Level”, I was blown away. That is a record that made me want to make beats in the first place and one of the producers is telling me he likes MY stuff. Luke and I relinked up around this time and set the controls to Grand Invincible.
W: After reading some of your bio, the two of you seem to be firm on keeping the “authentic” sound of the late 80′s and early 90′s. Why is that important to you guys to keep that sound?
Luke Sick: The sound isn’t really what’s important, I mean it is very important (classic breaks are just that classic breaks!), but the limitations from that era are what made it so dope. The great Hank Shocklee once said:
“We would have better records today if people said, “Look, you’ve got 5 hours to make a record.” The problem is that people got all day. They got all week. They got all month. They got all year. So thus, you in there second guessing yourself.”
I back that statement 100%. I’m definitely not the first to make or believe in this claim that: Nothing beats thrift store/flea market/found in the street (as was the case for the Elephant Tranq break) vinyl sampled, chopped, arranged and sequenced in a SP1200, MPC60, MPC2000, MPC3000. Call in sick for work, sleep in, hit the cannabis club for a fat sack, hit the thrifts after a blunt-and taco-truck-brunch, make the beat in an afternoon and record the vocals in like one or two takes before dinner after a forty and blunt, that’s that raw shit and nothing else compares. Those are the facts, pointblank, and like I sa
id we are definitely not the only people who think this way and absolutely not the first. But nothing else can get as close to the truth of it, so why would we wanna fuck with any other method?
In Ghost Dog by Jim Jarmusch it quotes the Hagakure (samurai handbook) saying:
“Even if it will be very difficult to succeed by advancing straight ahead, it will not do to think about going at it in a long roundabout way. This way is one of immediacy, and it is best to dash in headlong.”
I think that idea definitely applies to GI, our way, the real hip hop way in my opinion, is one of immediacy as well, and my rap cadence and Eons chops have the velocity that comes only from dashing in headlong. Back when there was no ProTools and everybody had to pay for studio time they couldn’t afford, cats were forced into a type of do-or-die efficiency (read the Boogie Down Productions and Ultramagnetic MCs sections of Brian Coleman’s book). That efficiency demanded an extremely high level of on-the-spot talent to pull off the impossible: a classic record. Without that urgency hip hop records of today will never measure up to the classics. So we try to re-create that attitude by trying to approach our shit in a similar fashion.
DJ Eons One: It’s more in keeping the techniques rather than a specific sound. The art of cut n’ paste and making something out of something else in hip hop is dying. Kids today can buy a machine designed to make “beats”. They are overwhelmed with sound choices, virtual tracks, fx, etc. You don’t have to understand BPM’s or have any DJ skills. You can drop 2 completely wrong loops into a program like Ableton Live and it FIXES IT FOR YOU. If I walked into Cue’s (old Bay Area record spot) with a magic box and said “This machine will mix any 4 records together perfectly” I would have been heckled out of the store. It’s not DJing.
Look at how hip hop transitioned from the live original performance to wax: it went from cutting doubles of records to live bands trying to emulate Grandmaster Flash’s routines. It wasn’t right. Not until cats like Paul C and Marley Marl really started bugging out with sampling records did it start to come back around to that original sound. That, to me, is real hip hop.
Luke Sick: Wait, what year is it!? This is still ’92 right!?! Naw really, I’d just tell them to cop our next album “Cold Hand in the Dice Game” and they’ll see that we can also time warp deep into the future and do like a ’95-’96-ish style as well. Ha! Fuck it, we keeps it gully.
Our imagination is 2009 and beyond but our methods are definitely stuck in the mid-‘90s, so the sound itself is really only dictated by the records that Eons digs and that’s the hardcore variable that no one can pinpoint and make a conscious decision about, because it is all luck and destiny. A roll of the dice, so to speak. Makes you feel like Bukowski on the way to the horse track when you head out on a thrift store mission. You have to have that Zen-like mysticism about it, or it isn’t fun.
I’ll let Eons elaborate more on this aesthetic ’cause he’s got way more experience than me, but I think there has to be something very Indiana Jones about the whole thing, the excavation process, the polishing of the long lost consecrated gem. Of course the way Eons flips his finds and the rapping are skills that go hand in hand with that mysticism and must be developed over time… but the cutty pieces of vinyl are the true sound dictators, so it’s kinda out of our hands, which is rather refreshing actually. The tough thing is having the patience and luck to find them. In my experience, most people who want to “expand” usually don’t care about having a dope record collection or are new to this and don’t have one yet, I should know I was wet behind the ears and I didn’t have shit, and, yeah, I was a way spacey-er motherfucker back then, but I had to pay my dues in the bins and that will always refine your perspective on this shit and kinda “ground” you, for lack of a better term.
In the end it’s all about making the music you really like, and for us that also means making it in the same way as those records we really like were made. Trust me, if we could get our hands on a two-inch Ampex machine for hella cheap, we would. We’d put aluminum foil on the walls at the crib, because Ced did it in the Ultra Lab, it gets that deep.
DJ Eons One: I would say, “Yo, you wanna e x p a n d, man? I got an eighth of white widow and a jewel!” If homie smokes, we smoke. Then we jam some shit. He plays me a track, I play him a track. I’m always down to hear some new shit. If he’s down, we go digging. If homie doesn’t smoke, I bounce and go digging. Either way, I go digging (aka that’s just my style of production). If people say it sounds like 1992 then I appreciate the fact that they are aware of a dope era of hip hop. What it really comes down to is there’s nothing like going out and finding a bunch of cheap, weird records, taking em home and enjoying them. Some become beats, some go on mixtapes, some get traded to the homie Jakewon and some get filed for blunted listening. You remove the records from the equation and it becomes something completely different and boring.
W: You come from the Bay Area. Obviously, you have a good appreciation of the history of the music. How do you look upon the Bay Areas historical impact on the hip hop culture?
Luke Sick: Check out rippedopenbymetalexplosions.blogspot.com —- We go into detail about that topic on there from various angles as well as record and tape digging in general. There is not enough time or space here to truly convey how deeply I feel for and about that shit.
Eons: When I was way too young to know what the fuck was going on, there was a local teen show on TV called Home Turf. They covered kids doing stuff in the Bay Area but it had a heavy hip hop, BMX and skateboarding slant. Home Turf is something that anyone living outside of the Bay in the 80’s would have never had a chance to see. It was our Graffiti Rock and really got me open to a lot of stuff at a very impressionable age. I hope someday that it gets a proper DVD release.
W: I’ve seen the name around for awhile, but what exactly is Gurp City, and what is your relationship with the name?
Luke Sick: Gurp City is
a gang, and I’m in it. To be on “gurp” in SF means you’re drunk or on drugs and acting a fool. A t-shirt logo (the city in a bottle) was made by an amazing but relatively unknown artist named Matt Loomis of Chico, CA and distributed by Thuggy Fresh. Many underground rap artists in the Bay (all friends of each other) were personally given these shirts and started repping them hard, including but not limited to: Z-Man, Eddie K., Trunk Drank, DJ Toph One (also a writer for XLR8R), DJ Marz, DJ Quest (Bulletproof Scratch Hamsters/Space Travelers), TopR, G-Pek, Conceit, Fist Fam, Grand Invincible, Sacred Hoop, Bored Stiff, Strangeface Crew, MacheteVox, Foulmouth Jerk, Delinquent Monastery, Motel Crew, Seasons of the Sick, Gas Mask Colony, Sequenced Mindset, Yole Boyz, the list goes on and on. So it kinda became a gang or more like a drunken mob. My homie Brandon B of Trunk Drank recently started an mp3 label called Gurp City Digital available thru iTunes and other internet providers. Grand Invincible’s releases go digital thru that as well as many of the other Gurp City artists. Since hyphy died, Gurp City’s kinda been the illest scene poppin’ in SF hip-hop-wise, I’m just sayin’.
W: You released “Ask The Dust” last year, how do you view the album now that it’s been out for awhile. Have you been happy with the final result?
Luke Sick: Pretty decent. Just hope we can get our next effort distributed on a grander and more invincibler scale. But secretly I like the fact that the true heads right now have to search us out and find our shit in the cuts, like Roc Marciano and shit, I really dig homeboy’s obscurity and the fact that he is totally comfortable with it despite being one of the illest, if not the illest, modern mcs out there, ‘cause that’s how it’s supposed to be.
DJ Eons One: The major turning point during the making of “Ask The Dust” was linking up with engineer Hiro Matsuo. We had been recording everything at my crib but I wanted to take it somewhere to mix it where we had access to some nicer gear. Hiro was not only an extremely knowledgeable engineer, but he was a fan of the same records that Luke and I were discussing when we first started recording GI. He understood our approach and really nailed it. I’m very happy with the way it turned out. We originally released it as a CDR with a limited edition comic book, but that was really expensive to produce so we only did 100 or so. We repressed it with different artwork and cheaper packaging. We’ve been performing those songs for the past year and have really changed a lot of them around so they are completely different in the live setting.
W: What are the challenges for a group such as yourself trying to get heard. How hard was it to put Ask The Dust out?
Luke Sick: I think distribution is the hardest thing, because we have no formal means for it. It’s all out-the-trunk/DIY. If it’s in a store, it’s because Eons physically walked into that store and got them purchased wholesale or put on consignment. And that’s hard to find time to do when you have a fulltime hustle (or three part time hustles, in my case, rent in the Bay Area is no joke) and you’re also trying to stay focused on doing the thing you love, which in our case is collecting vinyl, tapes and other junk and making music, comics, and ‘zines. I mean it’s (our music) on iTunes and the internet, but that’s just iTunes and the internet, not very classy, not really a cool way to receive music. For us dope ass packaging is a must, ‘cause that’s what we like to cop.
DJ Eons One: Yeah, physical distribution is the hardest part. The economy is fucked up, people are downloading shit for free, stores aren’t taking risks, etc. Luckily we know a few dedicated cats (namely Kegs at So Far West and Louie at Amoeba) who’ve really helped us out. Recording it was not hard, pressing it was not hard, but getting it out to the masses is tough.
I come from a punk/hardcore DIY background where most DIY records are distributed through by trading with other labels who set up their “distros” at local shows to sell what they’ve traded for. Nothing really exists like this for hip hop. Even 10 years ago I would go the hip hop gigs and with CDR’s of my old group in hopes of trading for other peoples demos and fools would be like, “Naw man, I need $5 for this, can’t trade.” Hip hop has always had that money motivation for a lot of cats, even on the janky DIY level. The belief that you could “make it” is really strong in this scene. We LOSE money doing Grand Invincible but we still do it! We have to do it and will continue to make new shit and lose more money, guaranteed.
W: There is a 12 inch vinyl release for the single for “Purse Thieves,” what made you want to release the single on vinyl?
Luke Sick: I’ll let Eons answer that, but I know for a fact that we will always strive to have as many vinyl releases as we can, it’s the nature of the beast, it’s the proper medium for the artform, nobody can dispute that.
DJ Eons One: Well, it’s not real until it’s on vinyl, right? The 12” single is the medium that held the songs that inspired us to make this music in the first place so it seemed only natural. Originally a homie of mine wanted to get involved and help us do a proper release. He’s a record nut too and we approached him with the idea of a proper 12” single (with instrumentals, an acapella and “B-side” track) and he was down. We contacted our homie Eric Kneeland to do the artwork and we put it all together. Selling a record in 2009 is not easy though. It’s sad to see the 12” dying but it’s a reality we have to deal with. For years “dance music” and punk rock kept vinyl alive for the sake of millions of DJ’s and punk nerds but with the wide acceptance of Serato, vinyl just becomes more overhead in the production of your music. The punk sc
ene has really taken hold of the mp3 blog world and like my friend Ken Prank jokes, the same 10-15 people are the only ones buying new releases. I’m one of those 10-15 people.
W: The group seems entrenched with comics as well, with Grimey Marvel, your own comic, being out there as an item that can be bought on your site. Comics and hip hop have always seem to have some connection. What brought on the comics and how did the Grimey Marvel come about?
Luke Sick: I was sold on the marriage of the two as soon as I saw Kev Harris’ images on the cover of Street Beat’s Ultimate Beats and Breaks series or the hand drawn covers of those Fresh Records compilations with Mantronix, Just-ice and T La Rock on them, and that was a looooooong time ago.
Grimey Marvel came about because I wanted to do a compilation and a ‘zine about bands and rap groups in my local area, but I didn’t have the time to go around and record and interview everybody and get the pages together, so instead I decided to have everybody make their own page (with a comic book slant to it), scan it and email it with an mp3 to me, then I pieced all the pages together on 11X17 sheets at Kinko’s and Eons made a mix of the tracks and I burned the cds at my house. The book came out sick. A real smooth triumph for DIY. I urge everybody to do the same for the underground in their areas, because it would be really cool to trade these books around. Getting a box full of those would be a lot more gratifying then opening an email and finding an mp3 and a single static image or a cheaply made youtube video, neither of which you can fondle in your hands and covet for the ages.
DJ Eons One: I’ve been doing cut n’ pastqe collage zines since the late 80’s. When I got into making beats, I adapted my collage techniues to the audio realm. I also published a bunch of mini-comics back then too. When Luke came at me with the Grimey Marvel concept it just seemed like a natural extension of everything we were into. And it was an opportunity to help promote some of our friends’ current projects and document a small and almost completely overlooked scene here in the Bay Area. If we can’t get in your magazines, we will make our own!
What’s dope is that Grand Invincible is more than just a rap group – we do the blog, we do the magazine, we ran an ill fated monthly hip hop night, etc. I think the mix cd came out really good too and for having soooo many different styles of music on it, it actually has some cohesiveness when presented in a mixed format. Somebody told me, “I don’t really listen to music, but I can’t stop listening to that CD!” That is the best review we could hope for.
W: What’s next for Grand Invincible?
Luke Sick: I wanna release some tapes, chrome if possible.
DJ Eons One: Our second album “Cold Hand in the Dice Game” is mixed and mastered and the artwork is 90% done. It should be out on CD in Fall 09. After that we will be dropping an EP that will be a free download as well as a limited edition CDR with dope packaging. This is the first GI stuff to feature guest MC’s. We are almost done recording it. The third album is written and needs to be recorded and we’ve already started piecing together the concept and beats for number four. Luke is working on Grimey Marvel #2 which will be a bit different from the first one. We are also working on a compilation of local underground hip hop from the Bay which is called “Low Budget No Budget” and it features production from Luke and myself as well as up and comer T.C. Bonelocs and Gurp City vet G-Pek. Still sorting out all the MC’s but what we’ve tracked so far is really dope.
W: Any last words?
GI: Thanks for the interview Travis! We can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org or through our myspace page: http://www.myspace.com/grandinvincible. To purchase any of the stuff we discussed, hit our webstore: http://grandinvincible.bigcartel.com/. If anyone is interested in helping with distribution or getting copies for their store, get in touch. Chill!