We have a special guest contributor for today and a very interesting interview. My man DJ Zero One from the infamous Gutter Water Music/Dysposable Heroes crews met up with Shep, who has become known as the “Hip Hop Mom”. Living in Denver, which Shep lives just outside of the Denver area, I had heard about her and the local Basementalism show. The lady knows more about hip hop than a lot of the so called “fans” out there. She also cooks for a lot of the artists that do shows in the Denver area (and there are a LOT of acts that go through the Denver area, I’d almost put it at the number three spot to perform at after NY and LA). It’s a great read. Thanks to Shep and Zero One for letting us put this up – Trav
A Conversation with Shep: The HIP HOP MOM
By Zero One for Huskey Radio
When I first was in contact with Shep, better known as the Hip Hop Mom of Colorado, we had corresponded on twitter and hooked up a time for the phone call interview you are about to read. It’s hard to judge one’s character through the ambiguous dialogue you have on the Internet, but I had a good feeling that I would get a few one-liners about artists she had met, much the same way you would hear anecdotes from people living in Hollywood who had eaten lunch next to a famous actor, or seen a rock star buying their morning latte and struck up a conversation about the weather….
…Well was I ever wrong…
Instead, when the phone stopped ringing and the warm voice of an older, articulate woman answered and we began to chat, I realized this was much, much more than that. This was a well traveled worldly woman, a retired English teacher, an outspoken charming lady who just also happens to be one of the biggest hip hop heads you will ever meet. Her assertive tone and subtle, unforced street slang spoke eloquently at times, and other times would sound like she could recite the entire “Bizarre Ride II the Pharcyde” album in her sleep. There was no doubt that this was Shep, the Hip Hop Mom. Within the two hour conversation I laughed, learned, and recited lyrics with her. This is a bit of that conversation.
Writing: Literature and Rapping
ZERO: So how did you get into Hip Hop?
HIPHOPMOM: (Hip Hop) was an outgrowth of the fact that I came up in Jazz and Funk. Both of my parents were music majors, so I came up among jazz aficionados. People who played music and wrote music, and so the funk connection (for me) was going to happen, you see. So hip hop single-handedly saved almost every kind of music produced and every piece of music that was produced in the thirties, forties, and fifties. Hip Hop saved it, and kids don’t realize that but those of us who know that music, we realize it.
HIPHOPMOM: Really, I feel hip hop is re-invigorating many arts, it is awakening young people to writing, and in the long run, in the overview, that’s a great thing. In the short run, it’s kinda silly. There are a lot of people who are gonna look back on the cheap ass rhymes they have pawned off on their friends(and / or customers) and realize that it was junk. We know that. I mean anybody who becomes a writer is going to come up writing crappy poetry, there’s almost no way to become a writer and not do that. The difference is, the hip hop generation actually tried to do something with that (crappy poetry) instead of leaving it in an empty shoebox and evolving into really fine writers, and some of them really are going to become fine writers.
HIPHOPMOM: …and Carmen McRae! Carmen McRae’s license plates are hanging up in my house.
HIPHOPMOM: That’s a wonderful story: She was a friend of my father’s, and when she died, her estate called and said what do you want and he said ‘I want her License plates!’ Well there was two license plates, she had two cars, a Mercedes and a BMW. So one of them said ‘CARM’ which stood for Carmen. The other said ‘KMBA’, (Which stood for) Kiss my Black Ass!
ZERO: Ha ha, she had a great sense of humor!
HIPHOPMOM: Yeah. So I got that moxy(courage), that ‘I deserved to be backstage’ moxy. I think I got that from my parents. Especially my father. He just charmed her right off her seat and became a dear friend of hers, and he was just a fan.
ZERO: Just curious, do you play any music?
HIPHOPMOM: No, I bowed out of piano lessons at a tender age and have regretted it ever since.
ZERO: We have been talking about how Hip Hop really brings light to an older sound in American (musical) history. What’s your feeling on the ‘Art of Sampling’ in Hip Hop?
HIPHOPMOM: ..I realize the original crime is to take someones music and not give them their credit and not give them their money (that they should get) out of the deal, that’s crummy. In their attempt to circumvent that, what people are doing is chopping it until its unrecognizable, and that’s really sad.Why are people still talking about Tupac? You could come up with 50 different answers to that question and I’ve been thinking about it for the last 10 years…The answer is, Johnny J! That’s the answer, I’m sorry to report, to why people are still talking about Tupac. Now, don’t get me wrong, I adore Tupac on so many levels, but the reason that his music is timeless, absolutely timeless, is Johnny J. Do you understand what the reference is I’m trying to make here?
HIPHOPMOM: He looped samples so articulately that they were irresistible. If you didn’t speak English, and you didn’t know that the words “Ain’t got time for bitches/ gotta keep my mind on my motherfuckin’ riches” …if you didn’t know that’s what the words said, you would think that it was a sonata, or a movement out of a symphony. The song is that well played.
ZERO: Well, I was but…
HIPHOPMOM: ..no, you were not! not until Biggie and Tupac sampled them. You were reminded that they existed. I’m sure your parents had those records and played them, I had those records and played them, but they kinda fell to the back. That’s why I had so much respect for hip hop, it was breathing a new breath of life into a lot of music that had been forgotten.
VISITING WITH SHOCK G, MYSTIC, AND THE LIVING LEGENDS
HIPHOPMOM: I don’t know who would call me a close friend…but Shock G and I are tight. Mystic and I chat rather regularly on twitter.
HIPHOPMOM: She draws massive respect because she refuses to play the sex card. That’s a place where a lot of female MCs compromise themselves.
ZERO ONE: Anyone else?
HIPHOPMOM: Interestingly, Grouch and Eligh spent last Mother’s Day at my house. Isn’t that the sweetest damn thing you’ve ever heard? They had shows in Denver and somewhere else and my house was in between the two venues. So, they stopped on Mother’s Day and gave me big hugs, and the Grouch gave me a singing Mother’s Day card that he actually recorded a verse on, ha!
ZERO ONE: Ha! That’s pretty creative!
HIPHOPMOM: They’re wonderful! Murs comes through the house when he’s in town. Those guys are great.
THE BEATNUTS AND GRANDMA’S SANDWICHES: A STORY ABOUT SOME MORE OF SHEP’S FRIENDS
ZERO: I wanted to switch up the conversation and focus on The Beatnuts. I wanted to ask about your relationship with Psycho Les and his song “Grandma’s Sandwiches”..that song was about you, right?
HIPHOPMOM: Oh god, I love those guys. First off, those guys were playing at the first major hip hop event that I went to back in ’94. It was a rave on a mountain top with all the half pipes and skaters and there was 18 rap acts playing over a 3 day period. So the headliners on that Saturday were(I believe) Common, when he was still Common Sense, The Pharcyde, and The Beatnuts. So fast forward to now, almost 15 years later. Somewhere around ’03, I decided I was gonna write a HipHopMom Cookbook and I was like “I’m gonna go around and ask some of these hip hop artists for a song”, and have a CD that went with the cookbook! I was kicking it with Les, he’s a funny fucker (laughs), he is funny as hell! Anyway, it’s like April, and hotter than hell and he comes off the stage in a Silver Grey Velour Sweatsuit! It’s hotter than a mug in that piece! Ha, and here he comes dripping sweat in that sweatsuit. I’m posted in the green room and he comes over and sits next to me and says “Ain’t this suit cool man? I had to wear this suit cause it’s gonna be summer soon and I just had to wear this suit!”
Anyway, that same day I told him “Les, give me a song, because if I ever make my cookbook, I want to put it out with a compilation and I want to get a song from you”. So, in ’08, I rolled up to Boulder (to a Beatnuts show) and brought some food to their hotel and I’m hanging out in JuJu’s room. Les comes running into the room like a bull in a china shop. He goes “Shep! Where you been? I wrote you a song and I didn’t ever think I was gonna see you again!” So that’s the story: he actually wrote me a song for my book! You know ‘Grandma’s Sandwiches’ is a true Psycho Les song.He says something like “Ill be freaking these bad bitches/While Grandma be bringin’ me some sandwiches.”
ZERO: That’s the way we’ll remember the Beatnuts lyrics, that’s for sure!
HIPHOPMOM: Did you see that they are actually in a Off-Broadway play?
ZERO: Yeah! I heard about that, it was going on in Ohio I believe?
HIPHOPMOM: Yeah, its called Deez Nutz, I heard they maybe bringing it on tour, but that was the last I heard about it. I sure would like to see it.
BECOMING THE HIP HOP MOM
ZERO: Who were some of the first artists that you became friends with and how did that come to life? How did you become the Hip Hop Mom?
HIPHOPMOM: Well, it started with an underground radio show called Basementalism at University of Colorado Boulder. So when Mike Merriman, who is now in LA, (he called himself DJ Adict back then) first started the radio show he ran up on me while I was schoolin’ Guru at the Fox Theatre. Guru was about to do the show and he had a sore throat, and so I was wagging my finger at him about what he could eat and drink, and what he couldn’t eat and drink. Anyway Guru went up on stage with a bottle of tea in his hand. That’s when Mike Merriman slid over to me and said ‘I think I need to get to know you.’
So he said ‘Im having people over at the radio station on Saturday, why don’t you come over and help me interview them?’ So he and I interviewed Slim Kid Tre’ that Saturday if I’m not mistaken.That might have been my first interview, Slim Kid Tre’. We pretty much tore it up, we ended up talking about mushrooms, ha, and they had to make disclaimers. Most of the time when I go on the radio show at Basementalism there they had to make disclaimers…It wasn’t that I was cussing, it that I would say outrageous things….it was fun. I think all the fun was to stir things up. You know, hip hop has always been about stirring things up, about shaking up the status quo. That’s one of the reasons people are bored with mainstream is that the status quo has become what used to offend people, and now its just become the status quo. It’s become boring. (They talk about) how many women can you hang on your arm and how much gold can you hang around your neck (or platinum)…but it’s become boring, where as it used to really excite people.I think Hip Hop is probably the first technical music form that any Joe-Shmoe could do pretty cheap, and without training. Without schooling, without some little old lady teaching them to play scales and what not. You know its really like a mushroom, it’s like a fungus growing out of bedrooms(studios) everywhere. How is anyone gonna keep a complete mental catalogue of all that’s going on in Hip Hop? Any town, anywhere, there’s kids that are making hip hop, and that are making hard rock. Its become so much easier. People now have more time and more resources than they ever had to make music…….I have a lot of respect for the fact that the artists that are gonna survive in this horrible economic situation, they are the ones who have the stamina to stay on the road. Artists like Murs,the ones that are doing these tours over and over, year after year. The Beatles didn’t need to tour, right? They just sold a million records, and built walls around their house and could hide out. That’s no longer the case. Even ’50 Cent’, etc.. all these cats, they have to tour.
HIPHOPMOM: Yeah, it’s a real hard business model now. Again, it’s harder than it was even in the mid-90′s. People were buying Cd’s.
HIPHOPMOM: Right, and If you like a song, you download it and share it, right? We (the listeners) all just make each other dubbed tapes on CD, and load them on your computer. So you have to develop a relationship with your audience. I’ve seen some artists who don’t seem to have that concept and think they can treat their audience bad. I think that’s just suicidal as an artist. You know why people will roll out to a Too Short show? He has a reputation of treating his audience well.
Visiting with Friends: Fatlip and Shock G.
ZERO: So, can you tell me about Fatlip?
HIPHOPMOM: Ah, the elusive Fatlip! Fatlip comes over here and strolls in and sits down in front of my piano, and guess what he played? Beethoven! Of all things! That’s just another side of his Genius that people may not be aware of. Now, the piano is here in my house because of Shock G. Shock G was over here and said “Shep, if you had a piano here I’d stay forever.” A few days later someone just happened to give me a piano! So it’s waiting here for him when he comes through town but he hates the cold so it may be a while before he comes back up.
Black Thought and ?uestlove
HIPHOPMOM: I went to hear Les Nubians back in 1997 at the Fox Theater (in Boulder, Co). I had already met Les Nubians. I had rolled up on them when they were walking around before the show. The Fox Theater is located on a great big hill in Boulder and they actually call it “The Hill.” Anyway, a lot of shit goes down on “The Hill”…fights, etc..So, I’m in the crowd and across the street is an undercover policeman in an unmarked car, and he’s sitting in the car staring back at the crowd and there’s 2 other cop cars all about 50 meters from us. They(the cops) get out of their car and walk over and start harassing this kid who isn’t doing anything wrong, he just happens to be drunk. Well, these cops are giving him a hard time and I’m watching all this go down and I’m kinda pissed and sitting there and giving serious consideration to going and jumping into that mix, cause I’m a little old, non-drinking lady, I’m like kryptonite to these cops, they don’t want to take my ass to jail..(laughs) So next to me is these two cats, one’s got on glasses and he’s shorter than the other and the other is taller and a little lighter skinned, and we start talking about these cops and how they’re kinda being oppressive. The shorter cat with the glasses is carrying a computer bag, er, which could be a computer bag or could be a bag of marijuana, you just never know! So he slides over to me and says “Yo, you wanna hold my bag for me?” I said “Oh, Hell no I don’t wanna hold you bag for you!” I said “Where you from?” He said “Boulder” and I said “Oh yeah?(sarcastically) How long you lived here?” He said “Oh, 10 years” So I asked “What’s your name?” And he said “Rob…what’s your name?” and I replied “Linda” to which he says “You’re lying aren’t ya?” and I said “Yeah!” Right then he turns on his heel and walks away from me.
So, Les Nubians gives me a copy of their new video which I played the next day and right there in the video is that cat from the night before, who turned out to be Black Thought. So, Black Thought and I didn’t become cordial to each other for a couple of years, every time we’d see each other it was like a stand-off, ha! So, a few years later I send some food backstage at a Roots concert, and it included a pecan pie I made. The next summer I end up dropping off food at Michael Franti’s dressing room….I’ve been cooking for Spearhead for a long time…we go back to like ’96. So, Questlove was there doing a DJ set, and so I brought a box of food for Questlove. So I’m doing my thing and these hands come over and grab the food I brought for Questlove and I said “Hey, that’s for Questlove!” and this low voice says “I am Questlove…does this include that pecan pie from last summer, because me and Black Thought nearly boxed over that pie!” So, now whenever I see Black Thought his first words to me are “Did you bring me that pecan pie?” Hahaha…it’s great, so that’s how I met those cats.
HIPHOPMOM: Slug I’ve
known since about 2002, since I was on that radio show. I will take on any fool who tries to say that Slug’s not a rapper. I read that recently and I couldn’t believe it. I don’t know what the whole thing is with people hating on him but I think it’s jealousy…Anyway, I watched that fool freestyle and I would put him up with anyone….So last summer there was a Rhymesayers show and I made up a bunch of sandwiches which I threw into these great baskets I got at a Flea Market years ago. These baskets I got were from Ghana, and were really elegant. So I was mobbing around with Murs, and I go up to Slug’s room, which was the headliners room. Well, at the venue (Red Rock) the headliners room has a massage chair, and you know after I cook for these artists, my back is killing me! You know, every time I cook for these fools I ask myself “Why do I do this?” cause, it’s back-breaking work! So I roll up on Slug and say, “Here I brought you guys some food, can I use this massage chair?” So I go and set down the basket and he said “Wow, I want this basket” and I said “Naw dude, you want the food!” and he’s like “Naw I want the basket, how much you want for it?” I said “You know what? I probably couldn’t even replace this basket for 80 bucks”. He whips out 80 dollars and puts it in my hand, and takes my basket! So one thing you can say about that fool is he has good taste.
ZERO: Let’s talk about some of the local “Up and Coming acts” out of your area. Can you name some names our readers should keep an eye out for?
HIPHOPMOM: One group that starting to see something happen is Three the Hard Way. Those cats are doing really well. Another few would be Maneline, and FOE. All of these cats are great and there’s tons more. I don’t go out a lot and watch a lot of the local shows. My attitude is: Ive seen you a couple of times, so do not hound me to come out to every fuckin’ show you play at.
A lot of people tend to think that everyone should show up to every show they do, and that that is somehow a stepping stone to blowing up.
ZERO: They think that you owe them something because they’re the artists, and I don’t agree with that.