So, what did you do during the break between Sweet Sensation and your current projects, which we'll come to?
I actually just started working. I got into telecommunications, man, Telecom. Doing transmission work and with data circuits and stuff like that, which is how I'm really paying the rent right now. It was big back in those days, then kinda fell apart with the dot comers and all of that, but it's starting to come back now. And I'm still working, still doing telecom, and I keep that. I tell young cats now in the business, get something under your belt, man. Don't ever abandon your passion. If you feel like hip-hop is your passion, then learn the business. Learn about publishing, learn production, learn all the aspects of the music industry. You don't have to be a rapper to be in the music. If you're a songwriter, be a songwriter; but there's so many aspects in the entertainment industry where you can be lucrative. But while you're working on that, you gotta hold up your manhood and get a job. Get your degree. I thank god I developed that telecom skill, because that's what helping me eat right now, you know, and take care of my seed, my family. But if music is your passion, you'll never be able to abandon it.
But looking at the scene now, looking at hip-hop, it's kind of distressing to see that everything is about guns, hoes, drugs, cars and whatever. I know there's a lot more avenues and aspects to hip-hop, like the stages where Public Enemy, KRS and people like that were using hip-hop as a tool to reach their people; but all that got put to the wayside when all that gangsta stuff came out. And it's a shame because hip-hop is a tool that we need to use to communicate, because kids'll listen to hip-hop more than their teachers or parents or priests. So if that's the primary channel of communication we've got, how can we not use that to reach out to them and show them that there are other aspects to life that they could pursue? There's nothing wrong with jewelry and having a hot whip or getting money, but it's not all there is. And anybody can make money, but what we need to learn is how to keep money… and how to make money make money. It's just something we don't get trained in, in urban cultures, in terms of finance. And we need to pay more attention to that.
So I decided to get back in. And also, besides the seriousness, I think cats miss being able to party instead of listening to records about murder. There's some stuff like that that I dig, just because I'm digging hip-hop, you know? Like I dig Mobb Deep; they're one of my favorite groups. I don't necessarily aspire to the things they discuss, but I love their approach to hip-hop. Sometimes I get past the lyrics and I get into the flow, but if I want to hear lyricists, there's people like Rakim, Talib Kweli, Black Thought, cats like that. I still aspire to hear lyricists and wordsmiths. Like my favorite from this era would have to be Jadakiss or, um… I even gotta give it up to Eminem. It's all about the wordplay; it ain't about black or white or whatever. If you're sick with words, you're sick with words. So for me, when there was the prospect of working with Melle Mel, I was like, "oh hell yeah."
Somebody got at me and said that he was working on some stuff and wanted to hear some beats. So I let him hear a couple of things, and he was diggin' the production approach. So one song turned into two, and two songs turned into three, which turned into eleven. And we ended up recording pretty much the whole album here in my facilities. And for me, whether you sell records or not, it was just an honor to be a part of that process. You know, just last year, The Furious Five became the first rap group inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame. That's a big thing, and couldn't've happened to a nicer dude.
So that's how all that jumped off, and after doing that with Mel I was like, I'm not gonna be able to sleep and rest until I put out another record. And that's why I jumped right back in and am working on my joints right now.
But you've done a little more production, too, during that time, right? Like I think there was an artist named KDM?
Yeah, yeah, KDM. Damn, how you know about that? Wow… that's crazy that you know about that. Before or around the same time I started working on the Mele project, I opened up a studio in Queens. And one of the main artists I was working with, her name was Antel. And she was an R&B singer… she was just kind of raw and didn't really have any studio experience. But she made a demo, and I could listen through the demo and hear that she was actually a pretty good songwriter and had a nice voice. So we spent about a year in that facility doing that album, and KDM was a project that came up during that time; and working on his project actually paid the rent while I had that studio open.
He had a real hot joint on that album called "Beach." You know, he was like a reggae artist. I really don't know what happened with that project. I know we finished that album… I think he put it out on the internet or whatever. I didn't really hear anything about it after that. So, yeah, I had artists like him and a couple of other little independent cats that I was trying to work with. I'm trying to work with people who are serious about their art, but it's hard when you're grindin'. Some of them don't have jobs, some of them are going to school, some of them are hustling but they don't really have the money to pay for hundreds of dollars of studio time. So I was working out a deal with them where I wasn't charging them by the hour, I was charging them by the song, and give them the track and the studio time and everything included. Because when you're new, a lot of them have been rapping and writing for years but they've never been in the studio before, and it can be a little bit of pressure. If you're paying $35 an hour, and you've got four hours to get your joint done… when you're in the booth you're like, "damn, I can't mess up!" It's a lot of pressure for an artist. So my approach was to be like, "yo, you pick a day when you're ready to do your track. You just come in, relax, eat, do whatever you do, and just record. You're not on the clock, you just record 'till you get it right." And they appreciate that approach. Sometimes it's harder to make money that way, but like I said: I never got into hip-hop just to be rich. For me, it's important to preserve the culture and if I could - if I was rich - I'd have free studio time and free beats for everybody.
But that started to get a little too expensive… the Antel thing fell apart. She decided to go do her thing after I showed her how to record and make hits and how to write songs… Well, I didn't show her how to write songs, but I showed her the ins and outs of how to make a record professionally. But she got different aspirations and she went on her way and did whatever, and I ended up closing that studio down and bringing everything back home. And that's where I am now. The lab is in Harlem, in my home; I've got a separate bedroom dedicated to it. And I stepped it up. You know, a lot of the stuff I was using was from fifteen years ago... technology changed a lot, so I had to step up. I got, not a whole lot of pieces, but just a few primary and high-end pieces, and it's just a real good sound coming out of that room. I've got cats that come in here that spend money to go in million dollar studios, and they say, "yo, you've got a better sound coming out of there than the million dollar studio I recorded in." And that makes me feel good. So I don't really want to be in the studio business, that's not what I do. But getting people a few beats together and getting a little paper, it's paying the bills.
Are you expecting to do more with Melle Mel at this point? Is he planning a follow-up album to Muscles?
Yeah, Melle stays working. He's working on a tour right now which is gonna be him, Sugarhill and I think Kurtis Blow. He just stays busy. In the interim, while working on that album, we also did - there was this lady named Maura Casey who wrote a children's book called The Portal In the Park. And it's a book teaching kids how to deal with their emotions, like anger, frustration, and she incorporates things like bio-fitness; and Melle Mel did the narration of the whole book. He did five or six different characters, and we did six songs. I produced six tracks and we recorded the whole audio book here in Black Solaris Studios, and we just finished that a few months back. It's out there… available at Amazon and all the usual outlets. And we just did a little recording a few weeks ago, because he just did a promotional thing for Dr. Oz, because he's working for a national school program with Dr. Oz. And he mentioned he wanted to get back in the lab and start working on some other stuff.
But that Muscles album - that's not dead yet. We're still working on the marketing campaign for that, because the problem is that album never really got heard.
It must've done well in some circles, though; because I know in some places I check for the album and single've both sold out.
Yeah, yeah. It moved some units, but it should've got more recognition, or… it needs more exposure than it got. They're working with a whole other marketing team now. So before he just throws a whole other album out there, we're not giving up on the Muscles album yet.
So you think another single off of that?
Definitely. I definitely think so. There's one song on that album called "Crossfire" and it's about the gunplay on the streets and all that. It's so deep; it's like classic Melle Mel. It brings tears to your eyes when you hear it, so I hope that's the next single. I mean, it's not for me to call, but there's definitely some singles left. But like I said, he stays working. He's like, yo, throw me some beats, because that's his work ethic. If he can ever get his ass out of the gym, because that's where he lives! So I don't know if I'll be doing the whole next album, but you know, I've gotta get one banger on there.
Well, there were a couple other producers on that album, though, right? Muscles, I mean?
Yeah, there were two other producers actually that did songs.
I think one was Dame Grease.
Yeah, Dame Grease did one and Rsonist did the other one. They were hot tracks.
So, was that something where Melle went off on his own to get those tracks recorded, or were you all in the studio together?
I think he may actually have had those done before he started working with me. I'm not sure. But I never worked with those cats before, nah. I didn't have any contact with them at all.
Ok, and now I know you're working on your solo album as Bliss.
Yeah, Bliss the Illest album is taking a long time because: myself, personally… I don't know. Some days when I come in I'll record a party song, because I feel people just want to get back into partying, and sometimes I'll record something that's just real grimy and angry, depending on what kind of day I had or whatever. And it's real mixed up. On the one hand, I don't want to confuse people, but on the other hand, I am who I am, and I think the best approach is to just stay real with it. So if I record something love and mushy, or if I record grimy, it just is what it is. So I'm recording like fifty songs, and I'm just gonna pick like twelve hot ones.
I would've had it done a long time ago, but when I work on my album, I don't wanna work on anything else. So working with Mel, that pushed me back like a year. And now, to be honest, I'm actually working with another artist, his name is Phase 1. Spanish kid, a rapper, he's nasty. Got half of his album done. So, once I'm done with him, I'm gonna jump on this Bliss album. So, I'm working in between… on the train or whatever, and when I get a chance to cut it, I cut it.
Right now, I'm also in a transition stage because over the last year - on the production end - I've been working with Sonar. But I just recently switched platforms to Logic. So now I'm working on a Mac, which is a whole new beast, but I'm kinda combining it. The new Intel Mac can run Windows programs, so I run Sonar and Logic. And since I've still got a learning curve, if I've got something I wanna get done and I'm feeling it, I just jump into Sonar and get it done. But I'm really liking Logic right now. I invested into a few high-end pieces like pre-amps for my mics, but I'm still old school with my approach to hip-hop. Like everything is in a digital domain, but I can't really get away from that Analog sound; it sounds real good. But at the same time, the digital is really convenient when it comes down to editing the audio and processing. We're at this stage where, if you've got a few grand, you can build a studio in your bedroom that would've cost a good two hundred, three hundred thousand dollars just a few years ago.
Especially with hip-hop, I've stepped back into making my production approach simple. It's not about how much stuff you've got but what you do with it, and I'm walking the line right now with samples… I'm still not that crazy about using samples. Because that's the whole thing right now, people sampling choruses and pitching it up to get that Alvin and the Chipmunks sound. It's cool or whatever, but I've never been one to conform to what everyone's doing, so you're not gonna hear none of those pitched up choruses on my album. Not to knock cats who do it, get your money, man; but that's not what I do. And I'm hoping that people will be able to respect my production because it won't sound like whatever everybody else is doing. And I'm hoping I don't curse myself like that Boogie Boys curse, taking it that one step too far! But I'm not really worried about what nobody feels; I'm just doing what my heart says where my music should be right now.
So what exactly have you got coming out? Like, anticipating the future as much as you can, what can people expect when?
Well, I've got this new artist I'm working with… it's actually a dirty South record coming out next. The artist's name is Tuolles Par, and the record is called "Shugga Mama." That's the next project coming from Black Solaris.
And when can we expect that? And the Bliss stuff?
In like a month; that's the first single. And then, the first Bliss single… a couple months. By the summer.
And is that gonna be on vinyl?
Yeah, I respect vinyl. There's still a lot of DJs that stay scratching vinyl or buying their music on vinyl, so I'll also be putting stuff out on other formats, the internet or whatever. Like there's DJs now, they don't even have to carry crates, they just come in with their laptops, and they've got 300,000 songs on there. But I'm always gonna make sure my music is available on vinyl, too.