While the digital revolution has led to a deluge of immediate access to both new artists and new product, something has become less available: the warmth, community and connection sound , raw sound, used to deliver. Generation 'I" has led to a prerogative of personal choice yet what is choice if the very thing you need is no longer available? In the age of information overload, sound has been commodified to such a degree it is no longer what you feel; it's what you hear. A true hip hop head would never say: I hear you' if they understood or connected but 'I feel you' - and with good reason.
My introduction to sound, the physical real stuff, came through the reggae sound systems that drove the dance music scene in the UK. I can still physically remember the warehouses, the 36 hour raves, the twelfth floor empty flat at a Norfolk Park tower flat which the DTI hadn't busted yet which hosted the pirate radio station, the hours upon hours spent in other flats where whole rooms were archiving row upon row of vinyl from which the dreadlocked DJ swooped and dived for just 2 minutes of a groove or a breakbeat. It wasn’t a party or a rave or a show; it was just a conversation…a ten hour conversation between four of us where not one word was exchanged. If you asked me to translate, I still couldn’t. Real sonics was the vocabulary which introduced this introvert to the world, which set fire to my brain, brought on a delayed puberty, inspired my words, pictures, gave me a career and my health. Although music has always been a core part of family life, it was sonics which shifted me seismically into another parallel world. I don’t care what they say is happening; the only thing that’s really happening is real physical music. It's the key to my questions and the questions are always the key to the answers which activate the solution.
But music has changed. Or rather its effect has. It's been blocked.
I had put this lack of sensation over the past decade down to trauma, age, change of tastes. With so much music on tap, so much original music to download at a click, 256kbps even, why did I have the cold, sterile sensation of walking around an empty mall? The closest I got to feeling chills down my backbone was hearing some Peruvian percussionist busker in the high street or if I went to a show with an outdated sound system which blew when they raised the volume. And it's not just me. The kids are NOT alright anymore. Something isn't being stimulated like it was before. Youth and music are not bringing about the next wave, the music is not linking disparate groups together like it used to, enabling new groups to form.
What's going on?
The dialogue around music has generally centered around an artist’s background, politics, their associations and influences. As a journalist, now in the age of information-overload, I have all the details but none of it makes sense, it's just a non sequitur. Music is sound and rhythm - that’s how it starts, how it works. It is the morality of the universe because when it works, it works forever - it doesn’t stop. So what is blocking it?
Music is a language we all respond to, unless you are an amusic and live a (non)charmed life. Even if we’ve never experienced the tonal distinctions of India or the complex rhythms and beats of drums, even if the chords are simple, dissonant or harmonic, everyone knows the moment they connected with a particular beat or bittersweet chord and needed to respond - one way or another. It goes above and beyond rhetoric and contains knowledge and wisdom beyond precepts. Music does what my words can never do which means I will always love it, need it. It inspires and uplifts people immediately and the really good stuff contains an organic encyclopedia that grows with you. Politicians, rulers, movements, corporations, lawyers realized that if you wanted to control people , you needed to control music.
Hip hop’s profile demonstrates this too painfully. Created by a people who had been ripped from their families, homes, cultures and traditions, it was built beyond the context and politics of their existence. Some of the communal sounds were of such a low frequency they sounded like the wind in the trees but they were powerful enough to unnerve their cruel masters and to put an unending fear in them. So the argument that hip hop was just social resistance and the re-appropriation of urban existence ignores the basic musicality: hip hop worked because it makes human sense, musical sense. European structures, with the emphasis on melody and harmony, left a massive vocabulary vacuum: rhythm and percussive density and organization. It is not an either/or situation but hip hop was a way of expressing an experience and history in a completely different narrative. This one is circular not linear. When Chuck D proclaimed ‘bring the noise’ and 'it's nothin' we ain't did before' and MCs everywhere declared ‘it don’t stop’, it was not so much as defiance as an introduction to the essentiality of sound and spatial rhythm. In churches, in black comedy clubs, in conversation, repetition, call and response and tone have a completely different structure to European public discourse. Martin Luther King used it. African cultures, while not in opposition, are different to the values European culture is built on. Hip hop is rich because it reconfigures the lexicon of other cultures to black priorities. This was how it became a means of critiquing oppression and documenting untold histories. Hip hop is founded on the breakbeat and repetition. The repetition is itself a story- it is not just a loop to fill space because there is no other structure; repetition is both the structure and the narrative.
European music focused on the strong and weak beats in order to prepare and resolve the harmonic dissonance which makes us listen while in hip hop repetition is the sequence; the connection and satisfaction comes from the vibrations of the beat agreeing with our own. The repetitions of African music do it differently: the aim is not to tell a story in time but to merge the past and the future into one eternal present where time has no consequence.
Think of the power of the beatbox, the cipher, involving the repetition and reconfiguration of rhythmic elements. The impressive lexicon of rappers is itself secondary to the structure of the rhythm and the timing of space and that break. ‘Take it to the bridge!’ called James Brown and it was he and George Clinton’s Parliament who understood, really understood the power of that break and the birth of funk. It wasn’t technology which inspired hip hop but the introduction of space and sound in a world where neither was provided. Hip hop is the desire to move beyond the limitations of life. That’s hip hop and if you don’t hear the call, if you don’t respond, you missed the jam, as Sister Souljah would say. Funk and jazz samples from the 70's and 80's are still preferred over live instruments because somehow the sound engineering back then captured a beat and groove with a depth and richness of detail subsequent developments have failed to achieve. But it is their arrangement which makes the beat break.
Drum machines have been used for years, largely as short cuts, time and moneysaving devices for producers, engineers, composers and rock musicians. They helped fill out a sound. Drum machines were not significant to hip hop; hip hop was significant to drum machines as they turned this logic on its head. In hip hop, samples are used as a point of reference, a means to demonstrate the priority of repetition and reappropriation. The sample is no longer just an allusion; it is also a stimulus for a new story. Which is where the copyright lawyers came unstuck.
I was introduced to hip hop through the UK’s beat-driven raga movement, spending days and nights with DJs endlessly creating symphonies out of beats and samples alone. My whole body came alive. I had no experience of hip hop until one DJ, Such Des, a fellow graffiti writer, started spinning in hip hop tunes and my education began. This was something entirely different to any world I knew, a world where words followed the beat, not the other way round. Reggae sound systems and that sub-bass hum abounded. The vibration came first. I was now part of the tribe, included in the conversation. And that is what sound, the real visceral stuff that runs up and down your spine and slams into your brain is: a car crash with a reality you need. It’s what organic food is to Cheetohs, what an epiphany is to dogma, what sex is to porn.
The 70s, 80s an 90s were an explosion of sound. Vinyl ruled. Record shops were libraries upon libraries of life from everywhere. Those turntables enabled sound and, without the drive of immense commerce, DJs and producers became not just engineers but architects, scientists of a new way of presenting this essential capital. Sound was discovered as an object and the lawyers and record labels moved in and called it a genre.
If the philosophy of hip hop was to move beyond the limitations, this was in the very DNA of its creation. The first hip hop engineers took the machines and the technology and pushed it beyond the existing boundaries of sound engineering. Rock musicians would only use distortion for a particular effect; rap producers used the effect as the instrument, the lead basic theme. Driving sound meters ‘into the red’, well into the distortion zone, created a dark heavy growling sound, the deep and dirty noise that summons urgency and somehow calms us. I can still remember hearing that bass for the first time and falling in love. And producers were committed to that bass: if a sampler had to be tuned to produce that low frequency hum, the sampler was detuned. If the machine had to bust, so be it - sound ruled. Rap producers are not the only ones in musical engineering to do this but they ARE the only ones who have built a sound production around cultural priorities in the digital age.
The drums predominate and the bass has to be front forward. While Hitler, Goebbel and digitization flavored the higher frequencies as it led to more social anxiety, fear, broke up the connections and hence made for more compliant subjects, rap focused on the lower frequencies which develop more community and warmth. ‘Spreading the love’ is not a cliche; it is real, it is a sound. Boosting the bass is not just about loudness but the quality of lower-register sounds at high volumes.
80’s rap producers loved the Roland TR 808 due to its ‘fat sonic boom’ and how it processed bass frequencies. It could literally create a hum to wreck car and house speakers and boom boxes. The goal was to create a bass to defy every limitation. ‘How low can you go?’ was not just a loop on ‘White Lies’, it was an instruction. While rock sound engineers incorporate and tone down the drums as just a part of the whole, rap producers’ focus is to emphasize it: add those effects, EQ, bottom, make it filthy deep. To do this, producers and engineers needed to create new mixing formulas to make room for the rumble. They had to empty the other levels to allow for bass leakage; losing control was a requirement to build the new sound.
The problem wasn’t the sound - the sound was the solution. The problem was in the modification of the sound in order to augment its commodity and to decrease its empowering capacity.
The whole of creation knows bass, our DNA is programmed to respond to it. We open up because that’s how human beings are configured. We are made from sound, molecules and energy and to operate in accord with the universe. Music is not just what we can hear, it’s what we feel, it’s a vibration, sometimes at a frequency much lower or higher than our own limited hearing but just as essential. Sound and vibrations can activate your DNA. Our DNA have membranes that allow water to flow through and clear. Most hip hop heads are familiar with the Horowitz Hz theory. In reality Dr. Horowitz learned that 528Hz frequencies repair damaged DNA as it enables clustered water to flow through and clear impurities. Without this, impurities remain and can result in illness. In another study, Richard J Saykally (U.C.Berkely) proved adequate hydrated DNA holds far greater energy potentials than dehydrated strands. Other geneticists from the same university proved that even a slight reduction of energized water causes DNA to fail. A depletion of this matrix is a fundamental process that negatively affects virtually every physiological function as the DNA double helix vibrates at a specific resonant frequency. Dr Glen Rein found at the Quantum Bio Research lab in New York that music can resonate with human DNA and another study concluded that ‘some stress-induced genes might be switched on under sound stimulation and the level of transcription increased.’
No wonder an album’s worth of overly loud tracks or high frequency 'music' neither nourishes us nor helps our hearing. No hi-res files will ever make this music sound better. Because it isn’t real.
Messing with the real music, the frequencies we respond to, causes the break-up of that essential communication. Brutality and slavery did not destroy the African American people because they kept the beat going, the hum, the rumble, the space between the call and response. You want to really defeat a people? You take away the beat while making them believe they’re still getting it. The same way you starve people - take away the food while letting them believe they’re still eating. Call it ‘food’ when it is in fact a non-food. Simmer that frog until he’s boiled alive. Gradually autotune his ass, put up that frequency, destroy the hardware, the archives and the reality of music. License it, stream it. Folk are naturally lazy; they won’t check the small print.
But the beat is a real frequency, a real thing. It is not subjective, it does not require a description or declaration by a press officer or a journalist for it to be validated. It is more physical than the hardware you’re thumbing as I write. Donald Trump and ISIS will not destroy the world; it’ll be your music download.
An aborigine on a rock in North Western Australia playing the didgeridoo is not hoping for a record deal or out of wifi; the Buddhist monk chanting in his hermit cell is not expressing himself; the 11 year old driving me nuts banging the ruler on the desk is not a musical genius. Rhythm and vibration are essential to survival and health. It’s the last thing we lose before death and the first thing we respond to at birth. A baby is born with the ability to speak and sing any language (yeah - that babble you call baby talk but he/she has more oral flexibility than the greatest opera singer). Real sound, real vibrations are vital, as vital as water. Hip hop sonics has become a commercial aesthetic instead of an essential priority.
While hip hop has been embraced as mainstream culture, evolved and digitized, its reach now ubiquitous, how far has its actual architecture and engineering developed? Hip hop pats itself on the back as it uses more European allusions - as if that was the whole object. Hip hop is generally a reflection of the times now rather than being the prescient outlier it was at first. It can no longer be called an outlaw; it lives by the rules not beyond them. It uses the tools on the table, focuses on stocks and shares, building business and legalities, paperwork not sound.
Hip hop’s real prisoners are sextagenarians, still fierce, still sharp but paid scant regard by the new hip hop. Yet for all its wealth, hip hop has lost its true backbone: the beat, the bass. They sold sound for cash - literally - and thought they were smart for that. But you cannot market everything because Cash does not, never did, Rule Everything Around Me. We will realize too late that we lost our biggest asset the day we sold sound out. Cash is void; sound is forever. I’ll start listening when my spine feels something real again. I’ll just spin my scratchy vinyl, beat on my tin drum and hope some kid somewhere is building something not yet made, busting machines wide open. For now, silence is golden; these beats are just muzak pollution.
The real architects of our futures, in the age of post-truth and info-overload, will be the ones who continue to defy the limitations given them, the keep the beat - the real visceral, do-you-damage, I-mean-business call going.
Holla if ya hear me.
ATLANTA is known for its prescience in sound production. More fundamental than the obvious 'trap' music was organized Noise and its legacy. Tracing the disparate routes of emerging producers shows how they are returning to hip hop's primal structures while pushing sound forward.
Go Dreamer aka Demond Toney aka Pregnant Boy is one such producer/artist.
'When I first experienced music as a kid, as in was influenced by it, was 6th-7th grade. The whole Virginia movement was then kicking off with Missy, Timbaland, southern music but it was a tad different from what we were accustomed to. I got into 36 Mafia and Trap/booty shake/southern rap music. It was very popular in 1997-98
I was church raised so it was forbidden for me to listen to this. I’d have to go to Target or Walmart to listen to the clean version.
In 8th grade Pops bought me a Roland Dr. Rhythm - the beat machine was my first introduction to creating beats. I myself am a visual person who articulates what I see through sound.
Then I got a Dr. Rhythm DR 5. The sounds on that thing were beastie, very wicked sounding music. I couldn’t write music so just made a beat based on the sounds and the feeling it was giving me
So I went from a DR5 to CD to possibly putting vocals on it from computer. I stole a mic from school, an AKG and started creating music. I was self-taught. I was rapping or doing it with friends, Not serious, very innocent but lit. A lot of folk criticize how simple-minded it was but I can’t even be mad. We had so much fun. 808 High hat snare heavy kinda track, the randomness of vocals, fun as shit. It Kept us from doing other shit. Then i started to understand, OK I can make my own sound but the industry is like a jungle so we were just creating our own wave for the community.
At Georgia State College, I got hold of an MPC (drum machine) and a Yamaha Motif. I was suddenly able to get the merchandize I needed. The keyboard helped me create a vibe that chiseled into my personality.
I came up with the moniker ‘Go Dreamer’ I would be technically dreaming. Like I said, my inspiration and sounds came from my cinematic perception when it comes to thoughts
'I met Tuki and became interested in starting a collective. Then Brian Stirling made a spaced out track and I came up with the hook 'Have you ever made love to a Weerdo?'. I saw the perfect opportunity for Tuki and I to do a song together and from there we created the collective 'Hollyweerd', a collective or artists and producers including Tuki, Jaye Price, Chris Macado and myself. We coined the word 'Weerd' and the sound that it became known as.
There were two projects, two different vibes I was working on all under the ‘Weerdo’ aesthetic which I’ve recently turned into a label “ WEERDO RECORDS: FRIEND ZONE, We got coined ‘Weerd’. We created that, the sound that has come out of it such as Yellow Wolf, B.O.B., Father, Trinidad James, Two-9.'
He is currently working on Friendzone 2 (to be released later this year).
Following a tour with Wiz Khalifa in 2011, Go Dreamer got to record in a room at Big Stankonia, Outkast's Big Boi’s home and home of Organized Noise , the Dungeon family and various other recording artists through Big Boi’s Purple Ribbon record label (right after Speakerbox and Love Below). Go Dreamer had a production deal with Big Boi and ended up getting a placement on 'Big Grams', the eponymous debut EP by American hip hop trio Big Grams featuring Big Boi and electronic rock duo Phantogram in 2015. Go Dreamer's song was 'CPU'.
'Erin Wird was working on vibes in the studio. I had been watching the movie ‘Drive and really vibing with that. Twenty four hours, staying up, trying to get a vid going, starting to get a beat going. ON CPU. Big Boi came in while we were working. ‘Oh this is right!’ He was just really feeling that vibe. He liked the hook. I had a female friend who jumped on the vocal and we worked for twelve months on ‘Big Grams’.
The vibe of the Friendzone project had 2-3 sounds beyond the vocals giving the music more feel to it as far as a personal communication between lyrics and the beat, knowing when to bring in certain sounds and beats. Being around Organized Noise I learnt how to let sounds breathe.
My other alias , Pregnant Boy, is more of a DJ persona. I feel I am to rap what Kurt Cobain was to rock. I am a post-rap artist.'
‘Friendzone 2’ got digital distribution 6-7 months ago when we started the label. There’s two: Pregnant Boy First Trimester and ‘Go Dreamer’s Friendzone 2. Friendzone is understanding what that is, creating a landscape of music, the rise and fall and rise again of that term. In High School, I was always in the Friendzone. It kind of comes off naturally. Certain artists give a vibe one time but then not again. Michael Frank’s ‘Sleeping Gatsby’ - that’s my life. The tune of my life is how that sounds. I’m just now getting round to understanding how that works. That particular album: urban/Brazil, midday vibes in late 70s. Sound is what drives music - not promotion.'
For me, the ability of folk-telling is the essence of blackness. Trap may be lavishly urban but it is still folk-telling as far as being able to tell a story from a standpoint. When I go into a studio, the vibe has to be right. Find a communication where the artist is coming from. Meet the artist in the space they are in and then bring the artist from there, chiseling the product out of all that.'
CHICAGO-BORN Kurt 'Kobane' Couthold was the force behind a lot of Death Row's sounds from October 1995. Like most prolific producers, he was also influenced through his mom's vinyl collection.
'At an early age, it wasn't just the song I was hearing but I was picking up on specific sounds. Prince was my first model in figuring out how to make music because I was into rock and liked R & B. there wasn't much out there in terms of urban music but Prince showed me I could be an African American and fuse both styles together and he was single handedly making his music all by himself.'
After discovering he couldn't sing during his first time in a recording studio, Kobane was encouraged to work on producing by a sound engineer who loved his music and who declared Kobane's beats to be 'damn good.'
'So I started studying producers and getting into production.'
This led to meetings with record companies playing his demo music. After a 'typical bullshit A & R' meeting with Warner Bros., a discouraged Kobane headed to Lakewood Mall to try and work out a way back home to the Midwest. It was there he ran into Suge Knight and entourage. Kobane gave him a copy of his demo and told him he could compete with Dre. Kobane then walked away.
'I guess Suge listened to it because he had somebody find me and bring me back to speak with him. He told me to come through to Can Am ( Death Row's Tarzana recording studio) that night.
'Suge had Michelle and other writers listen to my stuff. They said it was good so he told me to go up to the office tomorrow and get my paperwork and a check and he would put me up at the Marriott hotel in Woodland Hills. From that day on, I was Death Row.'
'The 90's was a very creative time and you really had to be talented to compete. The music was very complex and layered with multi sounds West coast music was easy for me because I had studied George Clinton and funk as they were Prince's influences. East coast was more into sampling jazz and obscure music. So I really wasn't into that but when Bad Boy came out and Puffy was sampling popular r&b classics that I already loved I was able to make that kind of music also. Midwest folk kinda appreciate both coasts musically so it was easy for me to adapt to either sound
'Equipment was very expensive when I started. A production / keyboard workstation would cost like $2000 And there really was no home studios so you had to go to a studio and pay $30 hr. A home studio set up would cost close to $10,000. Now I have a full studio set up on my iPhone where I can record and make beats/ music. So today there are no limits. Back then, your limits were financial and everything was analog to tape so quality was terrible unless you had the serious sound processing equipment of major studios.
I worked with all the great Death Row engineers. Tommy D and Rick Clifford were like my mentors - and still are to this day. Tommy had worked with Prince before and Rick worked with everybody from the70s and 80s, Rick James and many more so I got a mountain of first hand knowledge on how they create and their thinking processes. There were many engineers who taught me all of Dr. Dre's recording techniques and EQing techniques or who had worked with iconic artists and producers from the 70s and 80s. So I learned like a student what those people did to create classic hits.
'The secret to the Death Row sound was the mini moog bass synth and, most all, recordings were mixed to sound like 70s classic hits. From Steely Dan to Parliament Funkadelic. Listen to Nate Dogg and listen to Ray Parker Jr and. Jack and Jill from the 70's. The vocal sound is the same.
'The critical problem now is ironic as just when it is possible to download cheap software to make music in your bedroom, music creation has become accessible and it is easy to call yourself a beat maker or producer. Everybody is one now so more horrible production floods the internet. This leads to a less discerning audience as they adapt to liking less quality sounding music. So the direction has changed. Also, the youth don't have mentors nor do they have the patience to learn the craft as the bar is so low for acceptance now. They have no musicianship .... they just can program drums and now copy and paste notes instead of playing them. So today's music has no feel. But every now and then somebody like Bruno Mars reminds everybody what 70's and 80's music was about and how good it makes you feel even today.
'Hip hop today is McDonald's- it's fast food. Hits here today, gone tomorrow Easily forgotten with no substance. Nothing worth either repeating or remembering.
'We used to have to create our sound. Now they have sound kits already mixed and mastered for you. With my sound, I try to keep that quality we had at Death Row but stay relevant with what's going on with the producers today . And because I can actually play keyboards and arrange music, I have a advantage over most of them. All they do is find weird sounds and make a beat around that No spatial arrangement, chords. No real bass instrument, no flutes, no organ No real string orchestra.
'My appreciation for musicianship has changed for the better. I realize how much more talented I am than the guys today. I realize all that hard work learning musicianship had paid off. Knowing how a real bass is played or a real guitar even if I want to program it, I'll program it to sound as if a human was playing it live. I had Dr Dre ask me once: 'Where is that bass sound coming from?' I told him 'My keyboard but I have it sounding like a real person is playing it live.'
'If I could eliminate one thing from my production it would be my brain lol! Overthinking kills it.
'The real danger right now is the dilution of sound. Digitizing damaged music The loudness wars. With digital, you can only peak out so far before the sound starts to distort and people have pushed the sound level digitally to the limit. The warmth of analog is missing. Everything is bright and thin. And too clean. Saturation and that analog muddy characteristic was apart of the sound gave it a unique warmth that was pleasant to the ear.
'Another big factor was how we listened to music in the 70's /80's and into the 90's. Record and cassettes had that analog sound and we listened with great systems either home stereos or big boom boxes all the way up to the Walkman. Now those cheap little ear buds sound like 1950 transistor radios. You don't even get the full nuance of the sound.
'But now hip hop is under corporate control. And corporations don't like change. So they have to keep it the same and not allow it to progress so it won't progress out of its control. Also the way we listen to music was not created by the music industry so they don't care about sound. Laptops and phones were not created by the music industry. Like the record players and the Walkman. Hip hop set it off when it broke technology to prioritize black cultural values. We need to put sound first again.'
CLASSROOM 216 is made up of four twenty barelysomethings from Los Angeles who are determined to craft inimitable sound. Consisting of Ian Desdune aka Buttercreem, Cody Johnson aka CoJo, Danny Bakewell and Dominic Bedford (Cody's cousin), they are forged from families seasoned in the creative arts and the Civil Rights movement. They also share a college dropout experience and the impact that had on family relations: disappointment, being kicked out., the loss of security.
'We're called Classroom because we're learning how to do it right. Hip hop is our education; we didn't turn our back on college, we just chose one with a different structure and philosophy.'
And maybe that education started long before 2016. James Bedford, Dominic's grandfather, was the producer behind 'CarWash', 'Flashlight' much of Roy Ayers' work, a Grammy Award in 1994 for production and the building bricks for the samples used in Junior M.A.F.I.A..'s 'Get Money'.
Dominic: 'I learned a lot from him, about how hard it was to get recognition and credit for the process and pioneering architecture of song writing based on a groove.'
Cody, from Inglewood, MySpaced South Central rapper Murs seven years ago when he was just thirteen. 'I had an idea for his merchandise after designing a brand called Hypeland. He hit me up on Facebook and actually came over to meet me at my house. My mom was like: 'What's this 32 year old man doing coming to my house for my son?' '
But Murs said there was something deep in Cody's message which had an impact on him. 'He became like a big brother to me. He'd invite me to paid dues festivals. I started working at the Fairfax District Hall of Fame, Fresh Jive, all over. I'd always been around fashion since I was 15. That was during the jerking era and I got to be involved with and witness the emerging careers, personalities of Anwar Carrots, K C Veggies, the Odd Future crew, Pac Div, Overdoz. Dom and I grew up around these cats making it. They are like four years older so it's the older homie type relationship. I cancelled Hypeland after sophomore year and started throwing events, making t-shirts, anything to make money. These events would generally be around Merc Park (on Crenshaw and Kings, Dom Kennedy's 'hood), pushing our new brand URLA. I formed this with my cousin Dominic. It stands for Underrated Los Angeles and covers jerseys, joggers, Fat Albert character-style, fashion for 12-60 year olds. I also continued to do the merch for Murs.'
'When I first went to college in the Bay area, I was doing PR and marketing for Karl Kani so would be getting a train back to LA for meetings every weekend. Finally, I realized I was done with school. I told my dad which did not go down too well. I went on tour with Murs, handling the merch booth.'
Meanwhile, Buttercreem was DJing and picking up on sounds. 'My dad does music and my mum's main passion is music and she's such a creative person. Although my focus was sports, when I got into 8th grade I started getting into the LA Beat Team: John Wayne, Flying Lotus, Sam I Am, Gas Line Killer and so forth as well as starting to really feel old school hip hop. The album that blew me open was John Wayne's 'Bowser'. The thump of it is just crazy. I grew up around that, StonesThrow, Brainfever.
'I was fascinated by a familiar sound that could somehow be made different. All my fave DJs could remix a song from the Top 20 but you would never hear it like that again. They totally twisted it up. I was going to the Eagle Rock festival when these DJs were becoming popular. Their sound is so them. They had found a way to create their own unique sound. You could hear their influences but it's a new narrative, it is theirs completely. It's like they're saying:' You think you know this but I'm going to open you up.'
Dominic says the music is all about 'vibrations and feelings.'
Cody: 'Music has been suffocated too long but I don't feel that with Buttercreem so from now on he's my one and only producer. I want that story vibe. Although I'm not a grown man yet, I don't have a full story, I do have moments and that's what this first tape will be about. Then the next will be about the journey I go on this year and how I try to be a role model. A true MC always tells a story.'
Buttercreem: 'I'm thinking what arsenal am I going to create so my story can be found well, how do I package his story, how he's actually feeling. So much of music is just energy. I am striving for that muddy sound but still on that percussion that's hitting, trying to find the right repetition. I like muddy melodies not the best speakers. 2016 was all about the technicality of clean drums. But that's not what I want. I want that muddy and bright sound. I do a lot of EQing. I like highs in my drum, for it to be a bit messy.
The group are 360 LA with friends and influences from Pasadena to South Central to the Valley to Hollywood to beyond and their musical tastes are as eclectic too: punk, indie, funk, hip hop, pop, rock.
Buttercreem: 'I'm trying to have one conversation with all these groups/genres/areas, one conversation but with all these people, making sure everyone gets their fix, their nutrient. I want them to dab and two step in the same song! I want all my music to make you want to drink, party music, feel good music. We use unlimited genres to make our unique sound like Run DMC and Q Tip.
'House Music is the bass of hip hop. You can't ignore the role of that 808 or the depth of the bass. '
When it came to choosing an engineer, they wanted a teachable soul.
Buttercreem: 'Technology is not at fault; it's the formulas people use which prevent people from being creative. There should be guidelines, yes, but at the end of the day, it should be: 'This just feels good.'
'Our music is based on relationships and our connection. We want to mirror our structure off Atlanta's Organized Noise, an outfit that just go to work every day in the studio, making it a normal everyday thing, to test each other. We're going to say something and family comes first. We can't afford for each other to have too much pride. Not everyone is going to like my idea. We need to be able to take criticism because that's what it's going to take to make that unique sound.'
Danny Bakewell came on board to engineer: 'I want to perfect the craft, learn it, respecting and learning the history. Engineering for me puts it altogether. I feel respecting it is the missing key. A lot of artists disrespect the process. I think it was lost 1998/99. I feel young people need to know their roots and respect that before they start trying to invent.'
He hit the criteria for 'humility and tonality' says Dom.
And the actual sounds so far? Bass heavy with the sub vroom and a drop like metal on glass. It's like a wave of bass and rhythm physically hits you, the sound going through your membranes, muscle and mind, ending with a didgeridoo. Cody's electric personality lights it up, jumping and off bounce, bounce, building a cadence and echo like a street cathedral, beats that swerve and swing.
'I just want what ever is going to get the deepest groove. The most memorable house track has that one percussion to hit the off note and that's what brings the groove in. The glass noise is a distorted cowbell to raise the resonance and the didgeridoo is inspired by Jamiroquai's 'Digital Vibrations', a sound muddy as hell. I get the beats real low. Nowadays most producers use a lot of filters so the artist can stand out but I keep it front and wild so CoJo can bang out. I just use an Abelton DAW and Abelton Push if I have one or put it through the keyboard, vinyl and turntable and a Sonic SQ2 synthesizer.
'I let CoJo sit with the beat for a while. The song should be a testament to the sound sticking to us and how we adapt together, educating and connecting ourselves to the sound. I mean, this is what people are going to know us by so we need to release this flow. Do it right because it is so easy to put out now. The time usually spent on production we now spend on production.
As CoJo says on the magnetic tune Super CoJo: 'Real OGz go backwards/retracing (my) steps'.
The strongest indicator yet that new hip hop is about to push open a wild frontier, a spanking filthy dimension of sound.