WYDU SPOTLIGHT: John Doe of 1200 Hobos
While there are plenty of new artists out there that I support and play, with my old age senior citizen status in the hip hop world standards, I still crave and enjoy the sounds of the golden age. I love that dusty, boom-bapped out sound that just gives me shivers up and down my spine. It reminds me of my youth when I’d pump Gang Starr, Pete & CL, any DITC production, all that good stuff. If that makes me sound like a crusty old codger that keeps bringing up the “good ole days”, then so be it. When I run into an artist that brings that sound back to the masses in a present day format, best believe I’m going to check it out. When Rugged Soul Records got at me about listening to DJ Rob A’s New Mortal Sin, I listened to some of the attached mp3′s and knew that this was my type of hip hop. You see, DJ Rob A might be a name you don’t recognize, but the cat has been around for awhile. Since the late 80′s as a radio DJ in Virgina, to being feature in Rap Sheet’s demo section (who remembers that? I wanted the demo listener job, in some ways I got it). He has worked with the likes of MF Grimm and MF DOOM, and he still uses a SP-1200 to produce. Talk about bringing it back. I ended up featuring his track “Stacks In The Lab” on a recent Bloggerhouse Most Played post a couple weeks back. They then sent the album, which since then has put me in my Golden Age dusty beat heaven.
The man DJ Rob A is a busy dude, a production company, running Rugged Soul and working as an emcee. We were fortunate enough to sit down with Rob A and talk about his distinguished, if under appreciated, history, his multiple hats he wears, and of course his music.
Bloggerhouse: What’s good, can we get a little introduction and background for the people who might be new to you?
DJ Rob A: DJ Rob A from Charlottesville VA always in the background you might not know I there.
B: Your history is long, you’re not some “new jack” to the hip hop game and been dropping music since the golden age. How did you get your start?
Rob A: Like most people that I know music is my life, it is not just some background noise to add to the silence. Pops was a rock critic for CREEM, The Washington Post, and others back in the 70′s and 80’s so we got records via UPS all the time. When I could sneak it I would sort through promos. They came out as you know a month or two before it was released back then. I would have to do this on the sly of course, but it was easy to know what was new to the stack as it was always in front of the record player. I still have the cassette copy I made of the Yo Bum Rush The Show promo. I gave it 5 stars and wrote it on the cassette cover, I am glad I have that to remind me of those times. Needless to say both our record collections are still big.
As a very young kid my favorite band was The Clash, they still are, hence the song “The Genesis was Strummer.” They had an edge, a huge sound, and often talked about current events in their songs. As I heard Joe Strummer say in an interview they “wanted to make a contribution” with their music, so do I.
I grew up crate digging most Sundays with my old man for like 4 hours, flippin through records at the record store was a big social activity for me up until they all closed down, I hate it. I learned all about what bands sucked, and why they sucked by hanging out with older music hipsters. Most music out now has lost its meaning in my opinion. I also feel it sounds so fucking polished there is no space in the music scape to think about, or appreciate the song structure. I like it simple and raw like music by Robert Johnson, The Carter Family, Gangstarr’s “No More Mr Nice Guy” or BDP’s “Criminal Minded” as examples.
When I was a kid I back in 1988 I got a radio show on WTJU which is the University of Virginia’s radio station. The “Youngest Rap Radio DJ in the Nation” was my claim to fame. The shows were wild, and I sounded like a fool half the time, all wet on 40s of Blue Bull or whatever I had to ingest. I still like to think that I broke Gangstarr, way before others knew who that were I was playing “Knowledge” every show. Maybe Preem will slide me a beat for free now?
Then I went on to do mix tapes, worked with Time Life Music to create hip hop compilation called “Slammin,” did a voice over TV ad for them as well but mostly have paid dues and been in the background. Nothing major at all, as I always have been helping other artists first, now I am trying to do my music.
B: Coming out of Virgina in the late 80′s/early 90′s, there wasn’t a lot of cats from that area coming up, how hard was that?
Rob A: DAS EFX blew up and made it possible. I am a huge Skillz fan as well and am proud that he is from VA.
B: There are a lot of us (I lump myself in this group) 30+ plus cats that say hip hop isn’t the same. It’s obvious it’s not, with the adaptation to the internet and the easy accessibility that anyone with a computer can be a MC/producer, but do you think the quality is still there, just harder to find, or is the quality lessened as well? How has hip hop changed since golden age that us elders seem to cherish so much?
Rob A: Ya know this is a great question and as you age you romanticize your youth. But look let’s just get to it most music sucks in general and has for some time. Some people are so fucking serious and try to cover up their human character to be something they are not. I see it all the time in my daily life believe me, mean mug that dude, cats that front like they are hard everywhere they go, you know them. Now to some it seems hip hop is disposable, worth only one or two listens, like a bad mix tape, porn vid and the flavor comes and goes fast like some microwave pizza. It mostly adds nothing meaningful to your life, but it is accessible and now to some “tolerable.” I mean put on some pop rapper of today next to the Stones Beggars Banquet and the rap record just sounds infantile. If I put Nation of Millions or Illmatic now they might sound ok next to it however. We gottta do better than this I feel, take your time, nurture the sounds and slow the fuck down with the shit you pump out.
When I hear a song I want to know why the fuck his block sucks, not just that if I come to his block I am going to get shot by him while he hands me some rock. Fuck that. That is not music, that is propagandizing yourself. I want my music to be as smart or smarter than I am, and maybe for some that is what today’s hip-hop is? Fuck if it is we are some stupid people. Yeah we said stuuuuupid shit, but it was funny, you could tell it was authentic, and could be serious in nature too. Get back to being what you are which is just a simple human who is probably living at your moms house. None of us matter at all in the grand scheme of things, we are just a blip in time. But yo in America we are self serving and lost in the consumer culture, that’s what we are taught.
I also feel there really is a lost human connection by all the computer music. No human touch to the sound, with perfect truncations and sound to the point that it is boring. I still use my SP 1200 drum machine as I need the feel of the drum pads, and the music. There has to be more to music than just being perfect. Give me your perspective from your life lens, and just be you. I really don’t just do music so that people will buy it, that would be nice if they did, but if I made music to sound like most major artists I would not make music the way I wanted to make it.
I have a good friend who worked with Miles Davis and he has some Gold records in his house. It is great to see, but as he put “that and a nickel won’t even get you a cup of coffee”. In the long haul the material loses again because what impact you make on others in a positive way is all that matters.
B: Deep, very deep. You are somewhat a busy man, with your production and “Missing Link Beat Productions aka M.L.B.P” company, the label, “Rugged Soul Records”, and you even MC. How do you jungle all three aspects of the business/culture?
Rob A: I am busier on my day job working as a social worker, and being a Dad really. The music is love and I wish I had more time to do it. But I do those things because of hip-hop too. I give back to my community because someone helped me, so now I have to return that favor. I also feel it is honor to be a Dad and really is what matters.
MLBP was the group I had with one of my boys back in like 95-97 we got a little write up about us in Rap Sheet kind of like a unsigned hype thing, which was cool, but I don’t use MLBP as much.
B: Is there one thing you enjoy doing more than the others? What aspect takes up the most time?
Rob A: I still love getting busy on the two turns. I remember back in the 90′s I used to practice over at Faust and Shortee’s apartment. It was dope and Faust was way ahead of both of us at that time. He was working on his Man or Myth release and sending it out. I never caught up to them but can still hold my own.
I love making beats the most the high from excitement you get when you know you knocked out something solid, and your boys are all nodding with you, that is addictive feeling of hip-hop.
Mixing tracks takes me forever I am obsessive about that shit, I usually am fast, and good at it for the most part but I would say I spend about 20-40 hours per mix on some songs at least.
I do like writing my lyrics and to MC for me is just about having fun.
B: As far as your production goes, the stuff I’ve heard from you has been rather soulful. Is that something you shoot for, or are you one of these cats that tries to cover all angles of production styles?
Rob A: I shoot for melody most. I think the golden standards are obvious right? ATCQ, Pete Rock, Preem, Easy Mo, Large Pro, Beatnuts, Rza, etc… So I shoot for that sound, whatever “that” is, and hope I can get close. I still use my SP1200 only, so as much as I can do on that I will. So yeah my sounds I hope do have soul.
B: You’ve been producing for the likes of DOOM, Grimm and others. Those two definitely have a “sound” that they usually have in their music. Do you try to look for the right artist for your sound, or do you feel like you could work with anyone? Who else have you worked with?
Rob A: No I never produced for DOOM, he produced for me only once on “She Still Got Dimples”. I would be down to do it of course, but he got his own stuff on lock.
Grimm yeah I did “Time and Space” on his Downfall of Iblys record and am proud to have been a part of that release, it was dope to hear how it was evolving when it was going on. There was an issue on the first pressing of it with the credit going to DOOM, but when Grimm repressed it he corrected that issue. Yeah I do try and look for artist that wants to say something in their songs for sure.
I produced my man J Gifted’s debut, plenty of unknown dudes, and soon to be working with some well known artist this year.
B: Let’s talk about Rugged Soul Records, why did you feel the need to start your own label? Who else do you have on the label?
Rob A: My man DJ Deeper who used to work on XM radio as a DJ and my homey CWM from around my way thought back in 1998 we could do some pressings of stuff and just have fun with it. We were all fans of that mid 90′s underground Royal Flush, Finsta, E_Rule, Natural Elements, Ak Skillz etc. So we were going to do that up. Also Grimm drilled it in my head from day one that you need to own your publishing. I do to this day, and always will thanks to Grimm for that!
Our first release was J Gifted’s Life your Life produced mostly by me..
We released Aarophat’s solo debut “The Sound Vol 2. Vibe Music”. I was just Executive producer on that. Aaro is good people and I am glad to see him doing good music still.
B: The latest project is The New Mortal Sin, how long was it in the making?
Rob A: A lifetime would be the standard response here, but really I had like 4 songs done in the early 2000s’ then I did the rest between 2006-2008.
B: For the listener that might be new to your music and this album, kind of take a little tour through the album and let us know why they should pick it up….
Rob A: I made you a record that I would have liked to hear in the 90’s, that is what it is. I also try to make sure all beats sound different and it does not feel like a run on beat record. If your looking for something new, sorry. So what you get is a hip-hop record that might have done well back in my time? I am not sure if people have gotten that, the title and the cover art yet? One writer got it on another review site. I also kept it fairly clean, and tried to make sure my rhymes said something, because I feel if your music isn’t saying something then what are you sayin? Also if you know me you know that a lot of the time much of what I say has hint of sarcasm with it and my music is no exception. So listen to my music with that in mind.
I know some 15 year old kid bumping some gun music could give a fuck about all this, but I have been where he is and one day he will give a fuck, so then he might grab this release, I mean download (laughs). I wanted this record to be something that my child could pick up and it not be too much for her as well. I made it for myself as well, I know it is not perfect, but I left some of the songs when I wanted to leave them and decided that was all I wanted to do with that song. So there it is in all its imperfection.
B: You hooked up with DOOM for “She’s Still Got Dimples,” first off, there seems to be a long history with DOOM, how did you hook up with him. Second off, it’s a rather dope track, how did it come about?
Rob A: Grimm used to manage myself, DOOM, J-Zone, Count Bass D and a few others back in like 1999-2002 with Day by Day Entertainment. MF DOOM and I had a deal back then before he got all superstar status which was around the time of his Operation Doomsday we were going to release some material on our label. He got busy, it took some time, but when we got to talking again about it in like 2005-06. I suggested the topic and we did the track. MF DOOM produced the song as well. I also have to give Siddiq at Rhymesayers a shout for helping.
B: What are you most proud of about The New Mortal Sin?
Rob A: That I paid for it myself in every way, that it was all DIY and my child can listen to it when she gets older.
B: What is in the future for Rob-A the artist, DJ Rob-A the producer and Rob-A the label owner?
Rob A: I hope to record a song this year with one of my favorite hip-hop artists and it should be solid. Not going to say who just yet until we get it done. I think now it is time to just do single records as we have no chance these days otherwise. But this joint will be special. I also have a few other MCs I am trying to work with.
B: Any last words?
Rob A: Thank you for the time and questions. If any of your fans out there find a song or two you like please pay for it as we need your support more than ever.
Oh yeah by the way Trav thanks for the props on “Stacks in the Lab” that song is one of my favorites as well, I made it for underground heads. Also it was a remix I did for a Shabazz the Disciple that was not chosen. So I used it b/c I liked it.