The sights, sounds and experiences of a Chicagoan and University of Pittsburgh grad who fled Big Ten country. From my Euro trip and published work, to hip-hop lyrics and sports references, welcome to a close look at my post-grad life and work in New York City as a PR Assistant at The Chamber Group, a freelance writer for HipHopDX and a twenty-something trying to enjoy the ride.
4 Things We Learned From Ab-Soul’s CRWN Interview With Elliott Wilson
by ANDREW GRETCHKO
HipHopDX attended Elliott Wilson’s CRWN series interview with Top Dawg Entertainment emcee Ab-Soul. Here are four things to look for when the full episode drops.
With Anthony “Top Dawg” Tiffith’s proclamation that his budding record label would control the Rap game in 2014 with the release of a whopping six albums, the bar was set high for the growing number of Top Dawg Entertainment artists. But for TDE’s Ab-Soul, the focus is on longevity, not meeting a deadline. With the release of his album These Days…, which debuted this summer, Soulo played his part in securing the label’s now-prestigious reputation as one of Hip Hop’s best by using his poetic and powerful lyrics, along with a stunning features list and well-crafted beats, to increase his ever-growing fan base.
Always one to dig deeper, Rap Radar founder Elliott Wilson sat down with the Carson, California rapper at the SVA Theater in New York City for his latest #CRWN series interview, touching on Ab-Soul’s past, present and future just before the start of his These Days Tour, which kicked off September 17.
Ab-Soul Calls “These Days…” A Calculated Risk
The initial backlash from some fans was that These Days… was an abrupt departure from Ab-Soul’s Control System. Ab disagreed as he has before, but in addition to calling his latest album an unofficial sequel, he explained how These Days… fits into the larger issues at hand.
“These Days… represents me following the control system,” Ab explained. “It’s an example of how the control system works. So you’re either going to understand that, or you might get upset with me and think I sold out…Those are the risks I like to take. No risk, no reward. It’s layered. I would call it Control System Part 2, personally. The first song is “God’s Reign,” the second song is “Tree of Life.” And the Control System cover! So I’d encourage anybody to dig a little deeper if you’re digging for the Control System in that…if that’s a problem,” he said, seemingly challenging the critics who gave his latest effort mixed reviews.
The Religion Of Hip Hop Is Real For Ab-Soul
Some could deem an album cover featuring a track named “Stigmata” and artwork inspired by the biblical crucifixion of Jesus sacrilegious. On the contrary, Ab-Soul says his brand of Hip Hop is very religious.
“Jesus has been the most popular character these days…these days of music,” Ab said. “I’ve been hearing Jesus, the gods are back and all of these types of religious references and whatnot…Yeezus. Jesus is probably the most famous man in the world. So when I’m listening to music now, it just feels like we’re getting back to that. You’ve got to think about how Hip Hop started… black CNN. KRS-One made Hip Hop a religion. It’s intelligent movement. To be hip is to be intelligent. The hop is the movement. Intelligent movement. That’s KRS-One. That’s how it started, so I’m trying to push that issue. We’ve gotten away from that.
Stevens-Johnson Syndrome Prepped Ab For Memorizing His Lines
If you’ve listened to “The Book Of Soul,” then you’ve heard the trials Ab-Soul dealt with at a young age before he proclaimed himself the “Black Lipped Bastard.” To hear him tell it, his wordplay on the mic is also a byproduct of his childhood illness.
“When I was 10 I caught a virus called Stevens-Johnson Syndrome,” Ab recounted. “My eyes were swollen shut for two or three months, and I was watching movies listening…So that could translate to what I do now…When I first started writing, I was writing on paper, and as my eyesight gradually got worse I had to find another solution so I put the paper down; I put the Sidekick down. The idea is that when you hear a song that you like, when you hear a nice quote, you remember it. So my job is to just try and remember a million quotes that I’ll never forget. You do that for years and you’ll be a master at it. It’s all learned behavior; I don’t want anyone to think that it’s a gift or spiritual or anything. Ray [Charles] and Stevie [Wonder] had to do that because of their lack of sight.”
Ab-Soul Used To Try To Rap Fast Like Twista
By now, most know Ab-Soul’s infamous quote from the song “ILLuminate.”
“I used to wanna rap like Jay Z, now I feel I could run laps ‘round Jay Z,” Ab rhymed. Over the years, the Carson, California native has reiterated the bar was not a diss. And ‘Hov listed Soulo as one of the emcees he checks for, so the respect is mutual. How did Marcy’s finest come to be Ab-Soul’s favorite emcee?
“I had Twista’s radio single…and I used to try and mock his flow to the best of my ability, and that was my first verse, the first verse I tried to write,” Ab explained. I couldn’t quite do that, so I had to slow it down, and that’s when Black Planet came in. Canibus was the man in that world, the real lyricist. And then the Eminem’s come along, and I find out about Jay Z and Nas, and everything just falls into place. Reasonable Doubt is my favorite album. Why is it that I connect with [Jay Z] so well? I’m not from the projects; I’m not a dope dealer. Why is his story resonating with me so well? Those are the type of things that I take note to and what I try to give back to the culture.”
In conclusion, Ab-Soul is likely just as complicated as he was before These Days… if not more so. But as always, a conversation about his music and the themes behind it helps shine light on the material. Stay tuned for part one of Elliott Wilson’ #CRWN series interview with Ab-Soul on WatchLoud.com. You can also read a full recap at WatchLoud.com.
Photos by Ben Gabbe/Getty Images for Electus Digital
A look at the 2014 National Buffalo Wing Festival, held in Buffalo, New York’s Coca-Cola Field, home of Toronto Blue Jays AAA affiliate the Buffalo Bisons and temporary home of the world’s best buffalo wings.
Rap is a personal thing, and those of us who listen to the stuff all have our own particular sets of likes and dislikes. They vary from one listener to the next, and there’s no such thing as a right way to listen to the music, even if, as we’re listening, it sometimes seems like the things we don’t like are obviously shit.
Stereogumwriter Tom Breihan, in the opening lines of his review for Chicago emcee Mick Jenkins’ new mixtape, The Water[s].
Exclusive: Statik Selektah revisits selling 10,000 Nas mixtapes in an hour and reveals that Joey Bada$$’s debut will feature a previously unheard J Dilla beat courtesy of Ma Dukes.
Hip Hop, like all the other great musical genres, has since left its birthplace and migrated across the globe. Fans from Brazil are no longer hard-pressed to find home-grown emcees, and artists like The Hilltop Hoods have achieved platinum record sales in Australia and New Zealand. With Hip Hop continuing to spread out over the world, constantly evolving and reshaping itself along the way, it was only fitting that Patrick Baril, better known as the deejay/producer Statik Selektah, moved along with it.
After leading me down a spiral staircase to the basement level of his duplex apartment, Statik Selektah held court in a makeshift studio with a large black and green Extended Play flag covering the window, the usual production equipment and a sound-proofed closet with a microphone located to the left of the soundboard; the same closet where Brooklyn Hip Hop collective Pro Era recorded “Like Water” to honor their now deceased friend and group member Capital STEEZ.
Statik Selektah has seen numerous movements throughout the years, but he’s particularly excited about this one. Not only because of his connection and belief in the talents of Joey Bada$$ and the Pro Era crew, but because of their belief in a quintessential New York sound unfettered by industry politics.
“All the great hopes of New York ended up making bullshit wannabe trap records,” said the Lawrence, Massachusetts native turned New York staple. “Everybody tried to make 50 Cent’s “In Da Club” 100 times, and it never worked. The only person who got close was Fat Joe with “Lean Back.” And with the copycat nature of the music industry you can imagine it becomes difficult to carve out a genuine sound. Still, the man who once deejayed for Q-Tip has more than just Pro Era on his plate.
Sitting in a well-worn desk chair where he’d created numerous hit tracks featuring everyone from frequent collaborators Joey Bada$$ and Action Bronson, to then new-comer Mac Miller, Statik Selektah and I began our conversation, discussing everything from his latest project,What Goes Around…, to receiving threats for creating a hit Nas mixtape and his roots as a deejay.
How A Nas Leak Helped Statik Selektah Jump-start His Mixtape Career
HipHopDX: Can you talk about what it was like making the transition from Boston to New York and how you integrated yourself into the scene here?
Statik Selektah: I was on the radio six days a week on Hot 97 in Boston. I was filling in for Chubby Chubb for a while when he was on tour with Kelis. I knew he was coming back the next week, I knew I wasn’t going to be able to stay on the radio in those slots, and the program director was kind of hating on me a little bit. So I randomly one day was like, “I’m moving to New York.”
I kind of felt like I had hit my glass ceiling in Boston, and this was back when I wasn’t even concerned with producing. I had an MPC, but I didn’t care about doing beats. I just cared about mixtapes and clubs. Mixtapes were my life.
But my buddy lived in the Bronx, so I stayed with him for a month, and then I got an apartment in the actual building. It was nonstop—anything I could do, anywhere I could be. I’m kind of still like that, but I pass on a lot of things now. Back then if I heard about something I was there. One of the first things I did was when my man Skiz from NYU was like, “Yo, Nas is coming on the show,” and I was like, “Word? That’s crazy. Can I come?” So I went through, and I had this portable minidisc recorder, and I had the first mixtape I did in New York. I had the sample version for Streets Disciple. I was the only deejay in the world that had it. And I showed it to [Nas], and he was like, “How the fuck did you get this record? That’s dope!” So he goes, “I ain’t doin’ no drops, but I’ll do a couple drops for you.” So I had the minidisk recorder, and I put it down while he was doing the interview on the radio. So I had the a capella of him doing the interview, and I chopped that up and that became the mixtape The Prophecy. So that came out and I had all these exclusives, but it was fake though! It wasn’t a real Nas mixtape, but I had so many exclusives that it didn’t even matter.
I must’ve sold 10,000 CDs the first day running around New York. I was learning the scene and learning where to drop off a wholesale. I was going to each spot on Canal Street, the Bronx, Brooklyn, everywhere. Nas obviously heard it, and one day I was sitting in Premier’s studio… Me and Premier had known each other for a little while, and we were just getting cool. I was hooking him up with all kinds of exclusives. He had just started his Sirius show. I was the king of getting exclusives, so I was just sending Premier stuff on a weekly basis, and he used to be like, “Come through the lab!” So one day I’m sitting there, and the new Scratch magazine had just come out with Premier and Nas on the cover. Premier was like, “Man, I don’t know if this was going to happen.” I told him, “Yo Prem, people don’t believe you. Call him up right now. Call Nas right now.” Premier called Nas, and I hear some mumbling, then, “Peace.” And two minutes later Premier was like, “Do a drop for me,” and as I’m doing it Nas walks in the studio and waves at me through the glass. So I go out, we sit down and I tell Nas I did the mixtape, and he’s like, “Yo, that’s my favorite mixtape ever.” And I ended up doing part two, which was Nas’ official CD for Def Jam. So Def Jam ended up printing out 80,000 of those and giving ‘em out for his album Hip Hop Is Dead. And that’s one of the biggest things that spread my name—working with Nas.
I’m going to throw this out there, nobody knows this: Premier gave me “Black Republican,” the Jay Z and Nas collab, about seven months before it came out. And finally I heard it was going to come out, so me and Big Mike did a mixtape and we set it off with that song. That was the biggest mixtape of my career. We sold 10,000 in one hour, just in New York. And rumors were going around that Nas was mad at me and all this. A shitty version leaked, so I went ahead and got the green light and did it. People were calling me like, “Yo, if I was you I wouldn’t be in New York right now. I’d get out of here.” So I called Nas’ manager and was like, “I heard there’s an issue,” and he’s like, “Nas wants you to do his mixtape.” So that’s how [The Prophecy] part two came about. It all came from that first week in New York when I went down to NYU.
I mean was doing other stuff already though. I had a mixtape with Mobb Deep, Method Man, John Legend—I did his first tape —and Akon. But that Nas thing really made noise. And this is all before I cared about beats…and then the DJ Drama thing happened in 2007, and I was like, “I better do an album because the mixtape game was my whole income, and it killed the mixtape game.” All the little bootleg stores closed up. Stores that would be 300 CDs from me at a time stopped selling mixtapes. So I decided to legally do it, and I did my first album, which was supposed to be a kind of business card to let people know that I did beats now. I had to take it real serious. Back in the day, Termanology used to be like “Yo, your beats suck!” and that really influenced me to be like, “I’ve got to get good.” If that shit didn’t happen with DJ Drama, I wouldn’t be doing what I’m doing right now. I’d probably still do albums, but that forced me to get it together quick.
How Statik Selektah’s Pro Era Partnership Mirrors Gang Starr
DX: Let’s talk more about your relationship with New York. You being from Boston but working so closely with so many New York artists reminds me a lot of DJ Premier and Guru with Gang Starr. It seems like your relationship with Joey Bada$$ is almost that way.
Statik Selektah: Joey’s my little brother. I really try to protect his brand, and I take a lot of pride in what we do together. We’re on tour 200 days a year.
Johnny Shipes hit me and was like, “I’ve got this kid Joey Bada$$,” and at first I was like, “I don’t know about his name.” Obviously it worked, but back then I was like, “Word? Send me some stuff.” And the first thing I saw was “Survival Tactics” I was like, “This is cool, but I want to hear some original stuff.” So he came through for some scratches on “Fromdatomb$,” and we’d never met. It’s funny, because knowing Shipes, Shipes didn’t even come with him. So Joey just shows up, and I don’t even know this kid. I ask him what he wants to do, and he’s like, “I want you to do the scratching on the hook.” So I did the cuts on that, and I was like, “Yo, you can’t get out of here without me playing you some beats, yo.” It was him and CJ [Fly]. I had just gotten back from Brazil, and I bought this one record that was like $100-something dollars. It was mad bread. And I had a certain idea for it—it was the “Don’t Front” beat. And I played that for him and CJ and they were like, “Put on the mic” and they spit it in one take, the whole song, which ended up on the 1999 mixtape. I made it for Q-Tip actually—Q-Tip’s voice is in there, in the scratch…I was with Q-Tip in Brazil, so when I made it I was like, “I’ve got to send it to Tip.”
So we do the song, and it winds up on the mixtape. Then the mixtape comes out, and I didn’t even understand what was about to happen. I knew he was going to make noise, but it really got out of control. Even to this day, Joey hasn’t dropped an album yet! And we’re touring that much; he’s played in front of 100,000 people. We do crazy shows. So after that he was like, “Can I come through more often?” and I let him come through. STEEZ—rest in peace—used to come through. The whole Pro Era used to come kick it. “Like Water” was recorded right there in the closet. Every time I look at that corner, I think of STEEZ. He never used to sit on the couch or in chairs; he always just used to sit over there on the floor. And now, me and Joey…he’s working on some really big shit. His album’s going to impress people.
DX: Going back to Boston, is there anything from the Boston scene that you incorporate into your sound?
Statik Selektah: You know, Guru was from Boston and moved to New York. Actually, the last time I saw Guru he was like, “You know you’re the only person that did what I did,” and that meant a lot to me.
Boston’s like three-and-a-half hours away from New York, so we always grew up off it. And in the late-‘90s there was a Boston underground sound. I grew up with 7L & Esoteric, Mr. Lif, Akrobatik and all that. There’s a Boston sound in the underground, but it’s sad because it’s kind of faded away over the last 15 years. There’s still a ton of talent out there though. And it’s crazy that me, REKS, Krumb Snatcha and Termanology and Scientifik—rest in peace—are all from Lawrence, a half hour north of Boston. It’s mad random that we’re all from Lawrence and none of us met each other until later on. It’s like if mad rappers came out of Poughkeepsie, New York; a random city near the city. Because all the other cities around Boston, you can’t name anyone from there that really went worldwide with it. But for some reason Lawrence births a lot of Hip Hop. I didn’t meet REKS ‘til I was 17. I met Term when I was 16. Krumb was our OG. He was in Gang Starr. And that’s another weird connection too. One of the first placements I ever got was Krumb Snatcha’s album. And Scientifik was doing it until the day he died. He had RZA on his album; he had Diamond D on there. And he was from Lawrence!
That’s why I call the new album What Goes Around…, it really connects. Yesterday, Diamond D sent me a DM and was like, “You inspired my new album.” And that bugs me out. I actually saw him on the street at SXSW last year and he was like, “Yo, what are you doing?” and I said, “I’m going to play my album for the listening party.” So he comes through, I get him some drinks and he’s just sitting there. I don’t even know if he’s really paying attention. Then he comes up to me, and he’s like, “Yo, your album’s crazy!” We didn’t talk for a while—we probably haven’t talked from that day until now—but then he hits me up yesterday, and he’s like, “Yo man, when I heard the album that day, that shit inspired me to actually put out an album.” And that’s crazy to me because I grew up idolizing them. Like when Premier put me in his top five favorite producers…And Premier’s my brother, but it still to this day will never get old. Ever. I’ve got Gang Starr on my skin, man. Same with Pete Rock and Q-Tip.
I won’t even talk to someone for a while, and then I’ll stop by Q-Tip’s house on the way back from wherever I’m at. This has happened a couple times, and I’ll be like, “Yo, what are you working on?” I’m so concerned about what he’s doing, but then he’ll be talking about my last album. Like these dudes are actually listening to my shit. It’s dope.
Statik Selektah Says, “Joey Bada$$ Is Keeping Our Sound Alive.”
DX: Let’s dig into your new album, What Goes Around…. Just like last year’s album, this album has a crazy features list with everyone from Bronson and Joey, to Snoop and De La Soul. How do you go about setting up those collaborations?
Statik Selektah: A lot of it them are just friends, and then the ones that are first timers… Obviously Snoop was one of the pinnacles of my career. He called me. I had sent beats to his manager, and his manager was like, “Yo, Snoop wants ‘em all.” He calls me and he’s like, “What up nephew!” That was a crazy moment. And then I saw him after he sent me the verse. We did a show in Quebec; it was Snoop, A$AP Rocky and Joey [Bada$$] in front of 120,000 people. The night before was Lady Gaga, and the night after was Billy Joel. But that night was only Snoop, A$AP and Joey. That’s the biggest show any of us have done. So I saw Snoop, and I walk into his trailer and he’s playing Harold Melvin and the Blue Notes, some real pimp-Soul shit. He’s just letting it play, chilling with some sunglasses on smoking…the first thing he says when I walk in. I didn’t know what he was going to say. He’s like, “Yo, let’s take this selfie!” and that shit bugged me out. And he goes, “Can I have all your beats?” That to me is crazy. Shout out to Chauncy Sherod who’s on the record. Snoop loves his shit. We’re about to do a lot of stuff together.
DX: You seem comfortable collaborating with almost the entire Rap world, but have you ever thought about entering into a Gang Starr-like partnership? It seems like you and Joey have this relationship, yet it’s not as exclusive as Gang Starr was.
Statik Selektah: I’ve done that with a lot of people though. I did it with Action [Bronson]. I did it with Termanology [on] 1982, that’s kind of like our Gang Starr. But I would obviously do that with Joey.
DX: It almost seems like you’re a part of Pro Era.
Statik Selektah: I’m pretty much in Pro Era. I don’t try to push it on anybody…my name is on the T-shirts. It is what it is. I think the only reason it’s not more connected is because I’m 32-years-old and they’re 18. But those are all my brothers, man. They’re so smart and so talented. They really are more mature than a lot of the older rappers I know.
DX: How do you see their brand progressing?
Statik Selektah: He has a very important role in Hip Hop right now. It’s keeping our sound alive to the youth. And some people fuck that up…I don’t want to say anyone specific, but there’s been other rappers I met when they were 18 who had this type of power, and they fucked it up. Joey ain’t going to do that. He’s literally a baby of Hip Hop. He was listening to Biggie growing up in his crib. His mother’s very big into Hip Hop. The kid is what’s supposed to have been happening the whole time and New York has been happening a long, long time.
All the great hopes of New York ended up making bullshit wannabe Trap records. Everybody tried to make 50 Cent’s “In Da club” 100 times, and it never worked. The only person who got close was Fat Joe with “Lean Back.” It wasn’t the same vibe, but that was the only record besides “In Da Club” that was made for the club and actually worked. Any time someone tries to make a song for the club, in New York at least, it doesn’t work. Look at Papoose and Red Café. They’re my friends, but they fucked up a lot of the buzz that they had going. They could’ve made those New York records and won with them, but everybody wants to put whoever is hot right now on the verse and put them on the hook. They followed that bullshit industry formula and it didn’t work for any of them.
There are so many bums doing it to. There are so many “real” Hip Hop shows, and it’s all dusty 45-year-old dudes trying to sell you their mixtapes. It’s like there’s no line between doing it for fun and doing it for real. There’s no respect for it. I know very few people that do Hip Hop for fun, that freestyle for their boys and that stuff. Growing up, I used to do graffiti, I used to breakdance. I used to break out boxes in front of my house like it was ’85, and kids used to look at me crazy. That’s all we would do was Hip Hop. “Let’s go after school and scratch!” We literally were living the whole entire culture, and I think that’s missing now.
I can’t remember the last time I felt that way or saw people doing that. And now it’s like the people that are doing it for fun don’t respect that it’s your job. They’ll either try to get a free beat or this or that. There’s just no respect now. Back in the day, DJ Premier used to check motherfuckers. Freddie Foxxx would check motherfuckers. There would be rules! I had to check a kid yesterday on Twitter because he put out a video saying it was produced by Statik Selektah. It was a real good looking video, and the kid’s rhyming over “Bird’s Eye View” and saying it’s a new song with three verses and a hook, and I’m seeing it in my Twitter feed like it’s his single produced by me. And he’s in the video waving hundred dollar bills. If you want to use my name that just took me 20 years to get where it is, buy my beat. Do it the right way! Freestyling, I have no problem with it. If you put it down as a freestyle that’s fine, but don’t put it down like it’s your single. It’s manipulating people! I hate that, man.
How Statik Selektah Mixes Youth, Underground & Mainstream Sensibilities
DX: Too many people try to use the Internet as a fast lane.
Statik Selektah: Realistically, that’s what it is. Look at Joey! Look how fast that happened. Sometimes I have to explain to him that this isn’t the way it used to work. You had to press vinyl, you had to test presses and give them to the deejays, and you had to go into the studio and spend money. All that shit’s out the window.
I remember watching Mac Miller blow up. This is the first place he came in New York City. He turned 18 two days before he came here, and I remember sitting here bugging out like, “I don’t know how this kid’s blowing up so fast.” I’d never seen it. Mac was the first person in front of my eyes to blow up off the Internet.
DX: The sound’s just not the same. I always think of DJ Premier and Pete Rock, and it’s just not the way it used to be.
Statik Selektah: I don’t want to sound like the old guy that’s like, “That’s not the same!” and I don’t want to toot my own horn or whatever, but it’s completely fucking relevant. Joey Bada$$,Action Bronson, Pro Era, The Underachievers, all these people I’m working with are the definition of relevant right now, so I can say it. I’m not doing all these songs with ‘90s rappers and saying “It’s not the same!” I’m saying here’s the new wave of it. I wish more people would do that.
It’s funny because I talk to legendary deejays who tell me they wish they could do what I do, and I’m like, “You could have, but you didn’t.” You’re getting bread, but you’re doing EDM. Look at you; you’re miserable because you’re not doing what the 10-year-old would’ve wanted you to do. The 10-year-old me would high five me right now. He’d be like, “You deejayed for Guru!” That still means a lot to me every day. And a lot of people just lost all of it.
DX: You’re able to cater to both Rap all-stars and truly underground artists like REKS. How does that gritty, underground sound factor into the album, and what’s the creative process been like for What Goes Around…?
Statik Selektah: It just happens, man. It’s what I see in my head when I make the records. I’ve had people say to me, “You got a verse from Snoop, why did you put on someone like Ransom and Wais P?” They’re not disrespecting them, but you could’ve got anybody on that song. Who the hell’s going to say no to a Snoop record. The thing is, one: I’m a loyal dude. And two: That song was already Wais P and Ransom, and Wais was like, “Yo, I think I can get Snoop on it.” And I was like, “Nah, if anyone’s going to get him on it, I’m going to do it.” And I sent it to his manager, and you know the rest of the story, but the reason why we sent it to Snoop is because it’s a pimpin’ record and you know Snoop is on that shit. But that’s how records happen.
There’s certain deejays, who if they got that Snoop verse they’d be like, “Yo Wais, I’m sorry man.” Even Snoop’s manager asked me who else was on the record and I told them and they respected that. They have to. You know how many people would’ve killed to be on a song with Snoop man? But I am going to do a G-Funk remix of that. I’ve talked to Warren G., I’ve talked to Daz [Dillinger]. I might do that today…
How Jazz & Sample-Clearing Influenced “What Goes Around…”
DX: You’ve previously stated that this album is going to have more of a Jazz influence. Who are some of your favorite Jazz artists to sample?
Statik Selektah: It’s kind of an extension of my song “The Spark” from my last album, with Joey [Bada$$] and Action [Bronson]. It was a Jazz record with a sax sample, and people really pointed that out. I’ve always been into Jazz my whole life. I was always into Guru’s Jazzmatazzalbums…at least the first three. I told you the story about how Kanye said, “Jazz is dead,” [a story in which Statik Selektah plays a jazzy beat for both Nas and Kanye, to which Kanye makes the aforementioned reply] and in my mind I was like, “I’m going to prove you wrong someday.”
I just wanted to have a theme to it, because I feel like I was reinventing the wheel with every album. Obviously Extended Play was different because there was more of a Gospel sound on that, but I still felt like it was like the same thing, and this album stands out to me.
DX: Sampling today seems like such a lost art. It’s so expensive and so tough to get them cleared.
Statik Selektah: It’s killing me, man. I had placements on some really big albums that got taken off because of samples. These labels are just scared or lazy now. Even with Action’s album. Action’s on Atlantic, and making these songs is such a pain in the ass because we had to replay so much. It takes away from the album! There’s original versions of songs that are going to appear on Action’s album that I’m going to leak someday because they sound better. He agrees with that.
Some of these guys you can’t find, too. I’m done with Gospel. It might be owned by someone that’s dead or whose family doesn’t even know they own the record. Some of these samples are impossible to clear. I just sampled Chaka Khan on one of the records for Action’s album. I’m not going to say who was on the records, but that was easy to clear, because the bigger the artist the easier it is to clear, because you can actually find out who owns it.
I was on Jadakiss’ album and got taken off. Talib Kweli, a couple songs got taken off. The song “Home” on my last album…I put it on anyway, but it was supposed to get taken off because of a sample issue. It was actually supposed to be on Kweli’s album. It kills me.
DX: Where do you see sampling going?
Statik Selektah: It’s not going to change. What I did on this album is the future of it. I had a lot of live musicians. I could make a whole album like that, with no samples and live musicians that sound like samples.
DX: What’s that process like?
Statik Selektah: Write it on the spot, and they stand right there [in the soundproofed closet that serves as a recording studio] and play.
DX: Do you do the composition?
Statik Selektah: I treat it like a sample. I put it in, and I move it around the track and sequence it, and then I put a piano piece with that, and bass. Like “The Imperial.” Any time you don’t hear the [sings] the rest of that’s all played. So there’s whole parts of that song where you don’t even realize there’s no sample anymore, and it’s just live. It gives you that feel though.
DX: So are you writing out notes for that trumpet player to play?
Statik Selektah: Nah. I tell him to play [sings], but I don’t do that. I don’t know how to write music.
DX: But you at least instruct the musicians.
Statik Selektah: Half and half. I definitely bring something to the table, but they do some improv too and play around. That’s what producing is, really. Producing isn’t just chopping up a beat. Everything starts with the backbone of a sample. So I’m not just thinking up all these ideas from scratch. They’re coming from samples. Even if it’s a beat I do with no sample at all, it came from a sample somewhere.
DX: So you’ve been listening to a lot of Jazz lately. Who have you drawn inspiration from?
Statik Selektah: I’m really into Ahmad Jamal. Roy Ayers… As a kid, that was one of the first Kazz albums I bought. The Awakening, what Pete Rock used for Nas’ “The World is Yours.”
Donald Byrd, Places and Spaces…And it’s funny, because all of these Jazz musicians I got into are from Hip Hop records. I bought Donald Byrd because Black Star used it and Pete Rock & C.L. Smooth used it. I bought Ahmad Jamal because Pete Rock used it. I used to buy a lot of records because Premo used them, like Bob James.
Hip Hop rebirthed a lot of these guys’ careers. Think about how many musicians are paid off of a Hip Hop song. They’re broke otherwise. When Jay Z uses your sample, like “Empire State of Mind,” that’s a sample. That artist, who knows? They might have been broke or whatever, and now they’re rich because Jay Z sampled them. I remember when artists used to be mad because Hip Hop sampled them. That’s ridiculous! We’re giving new life to something you created.
DX: We’ve talked a lot about your production, but I know you consider yourself a deejay first.
Statik Selektah: I don’t even consider myself a beat maker. I’m not that good at making beats! I never cared about that. I always made beats, but if someone asked me, I’d say I was a deejay. I’d try to do scratches on your song before I’d try and do the beat. I was a deejay, and I was forced to become a producer through lack of good shit. It got to the point in my mixtape career—even before the DJ Drama thing happened—I knew I was going to have to start making beats at some point because the music just sucked. When all the New York guys started making the Trap records, the attempts at club records were stinking up the mixtapes. There were so many deejays who just played anything these guys gave them, and I refused to. If someone put out a single I didn’t like, I’d take the vocals and put them over a better beat. It stunk up the game. But a lot of those dudes aren’t even around anymore, so it’s all good.
DX: Like Bronson and Joey, who you’re always working with.
Statik Selektah: You’ve got to give props to Troy Ave just for sticking to the script with that shit and making New York street music. That’s important. It’s for certain people. Not for nothing, Troy probably influenced 50 [Cent] to bring back G-Unit. All the interviews were like, “What do you think about Troy Ave?” And Troy was working with [Lloyd] Banks and [Tony] Yayo, and 50 was like, “Fuck it, let’s get back together.”
Why Statik Selektah Prefers SiriusXM to Terrestrial Radio
DX: Being a deejay first and foremost, how do you feel about radio?
Statik Selektah: It’s the worst shit in the world. I sent shots yesterday. “All these radio deejays are so Hip Hop…when they’re not on the air.” You see all these deejays taking pictures withM.O.P., but then they get on the air and start sucking Drake’s dick. And I like Drake for the record; I’m a huge Drake fan. But I’m saying they do the same damn bullshit. But back in the day you would fit in new artists. Even in the 2000s, DJ Enuff would play a new Papoose record in-between the new Jay-Z and Soulja Boy records. He would fit it in! That’s all you’ve got to do, and they don’t even do that. I fuck with Gee Spin who runs Power 105, and I appreciate Peter Rosenberg for what he does on his show. Besides that, fuck FM radio. There’s certain people around the country that hold us down like DJ Hyphen and Chubby Chub in Boston. There’s certain people with specialty shows that hold it down, but it’s so rare. Shout out to all the FM deejays that try their best to fit in shit or have a specialty show. But fuck all the program directors.
DX: What about SiriusXM? You’re on Shade 45 on Sirius.
Statik Selektah: Oh, Sirius is the shit! I was on 10 FM stations when I quit. I quit them all to do Shade 45, that’s it… And my show lets me do me. I’ve never had Paul [Rosenberg] or [DJ Big] Reef hit me and be like, “Yo, take that song off.” Ever. They trust me, and that’s why I do the show. And I break a lot of artists on there. You know how many people have never been on the radio when I have them on? Troy Ave, Mac Miller, Joey Bada$$, Action Bronson, Chance the Rapper. No one was giving Chance a chance in New York City, literally. I had him on twice before he blew up. The Flatbush Zombies. Vic Mensa. We’re talking about a lot of first appearances on my show.
Statik Selektah Says Joey Bada$$ Has An Unreleased Dilla Beat
DX: If I were to pick up your iPod or your iPhone right now, what would be on it?
Statik Selektah: I barely listen to a lot of stuff, man. But it’s mainly Jazz. I Shazam songs off the Jazz stations all day. But who do I actually listen to? Kendrick [Lamar]. I listen to a lot of old Kendrick.
DX: Like Section.80?
Statik Selektah: I’ve listened to Section.80 probably more than any other album in the last 10 years. When I first got my old iPhone, I bought his album and it automatically downloaded to that album. And I was on a trip in Thailand, and for some reason on that trip it’s all I had to listen to when I wasn’t deejaying, and I listened to it so many times. I like good kid, m.A.A.d. citya lot, that’s one of the best albums of the last 10 years.
Oh, Freddie Gibbs’ Piñata! That’s all I listen to.
DX: Madlib’s up there with the top all-time producers.
Statik Selektah: I just saw Madlib in London a few weeks ago. He was breaking down my discography, and it was bugging me out because I listen to a lot of Madlib beats.
Oh Ab-Soul, shout out to him. Boldy James, that album’s crazy. It’s all Alchemist. Shit is dope. He’s on the album too. Boldy James is a dude in the top five to look out for. There’s some Roc Marciano, some ScHoolboy Q. And 50. 50’s album’s dope too. I was just mad because every song came out before the album came out, so when the album came out I’d already heard it.
DX: One last question for you. Joey Bada$$’s upcoming album. How would you describe it?
Statik Selektah: Fresh, man. It’s different. I don’t think it’s what people expect. Obviously you’ve got the boom bap sound, but he’s got some experimental on there. It’s personal, and that’s what I think was missing in a lot of his music. When you listen to his album you’re going to feel like you know Joey. And I was very involved. Even the songs that I didn’t produce, I kind of produced. I’ve been in situations—no disrespect—where the producer is on his Facebook page while I’m telling the engineer what to do. I was very involved with everything.
DX: I don’t even think it’s a secret. Most things Joey does are associated with you.
Statik Selektah: The Premier record on Joey’s album…I heard it and was like, “Yo, they’ve got to do this, this and this.” And it’s hard telling Premier that, but I would tell Joey to go tell Premier. I’d call Prem right now and he’d be like, “Listen motherfucker, I’ve been doing this for 30 years!” but in a funny way. That’s how me and Prem are. But Joey’s paying him to do it, so he’d do it. But man, when you hear some of the beats on this album, there’s some legendary shit that Joey hasn’t really talked about.
There’s a Dilla joint. Here’s how it happened: He did a song for the Dilla Foundation that came out with a T-shirt and the wax, and that came out already, it was called “Tulips.” And when he did that [Mrs. Yance] was like, “Alright, thanks for doing that. Here’s a beat” and gave him another beat. Nobody’s ever heard this shit. It’s a Dilla beat. I’m a huge Dilla fan, I’ve got Dilla beat tapes that I got from Q-Tip’s house, probably like 400 songs, and shit that nobody’s heard, and this beat is not like any of it. It sounds like it’s on a cassette. It’s obviously mixed and mastered, but it’s crazy.
Statik Selektah enlists Hip Hop’s best on “What Goes Around…,” bringing a scratch-heavy, Jazz-tinged sound back into the spotlight.
It begins, as so many of his tracks do, with a drop. The provocative-sounding female voice is laced with connotations of Jazz and Soul samples, DJ Premier-esque scratched choruses and the kind of kick drum, snare and high hat combinations reminiscent of a time when A Tribe Called Quest was fresh on the scene. As Hip Hop has gone through phases like “ringtone Rap” and “Drill,” Statik Selektah’s Golden Age-infused style has remained unchanged, influencing a new generation of emcees who have revitalized the boom bap sound.
Over a lengthy 20 tracks, the veteran enlists both Hip Hop legends like De La Soul and Snoop Dogg, to newcomers and frequent collaborators Action Bronson and Joey Bada$$, creating an album that serves as a crash course in today’s youth movement combined with the prodigious sampling and, at times, delightful improvisation that adds a certain nostalgia without descending into a straight-up homage. And while last year’s offering, Extended Play—released on a day in June most remember for the release of Yeezus,Born Sinner and Watching Movies with the Sound Off—was notable for its Gospel samples, Statik Selektah’s latest, What Goes Around… draws heavily upon Jazz, one of Hip Hop’s closest sampling companions.
It starts off with a bang. Blaring horns, heavy hitting drums and the kind of energy most reserve for when they unexpectedly hear M.O.P.’s “Ante Up.” Even without his partner in rhyme Billy Danze, Lil Fame, a member of the aforementioned ‘90s duo, takes the reins on the title track, serving as the album’s hype man by laying down a passionate verse that “explodes like Mentos in a Pepsi.”
Those looking for a less aggressive beat will be more comfortable with the album’s second track, “Carry On,” which features a lyrical dual between Brooklyn-native Joey Bada$$ and ESGN’s own Freddie Gibbs. The hard snare hit and thumping bass, both signifiers of underground-style beats, is a constant between the two distinct tracks, a trick employed often by Statik Selektah throughout his latest project. It’s this connection that makes What Goes Around such an enjoyable album to listen to.
“The Thrill Is Back,” driven by shifting piano chords and the rhymes of Styles P and Talib Kweli, is another testament to the versatility found on What Goes Around… Once again, Statik Selektah manages to craft a beat perfectly suited to the styles of the track’s chosen emcees, creating a common ground between the hard-nosed member of The Lox and the intellectual Brooklyn rapper, who begins his verse with an homage to the Notorious B.I.G. This track also offers us our first true taste of Selektah’s scratching abilities, which come at both the beginning and end of the song.
Shifting away from Bronsalino’s bravado, “All The Way” allows Snoop Dogg to add his pimpish falsetto to the mix. It is here, along with tracks like “My Time,” featuring rappers Black Dave and Xantus along with Pro Era members CJ Fly and Nyck Caution; “Slum Villain,” featuring Joey Bada$$, and “God Knows,” featuring UGK’s torch bearer Bun B, crooner Jared Evan and Posdnuos of De La Soul, where the influence of Jazz is most openly apparent. It also becomes a bit stagnant, as the Jazz riffs blend seamlessly into the voices of the combatants, sometimes overpowering their flows. At times, as on “Chopper,” the looping saxaphone feels forced and redundant. As you move through the 20-track behemoth, you can’t help but think the sound is crossing the line between being consistent and homogenous, but it’s also this firm adherence to a particular aesthetic that is the albums blessing and curse.
If Extended Play was Statik Selektah’s way of stating that he could compete with Hip Hop’s best,What Goes Around… is his way of letting the world know that Hip Hop’s Golden Age is alive and well. And while the compilation deejay/producer album tends to have it’s share of woes as too many cooks spoil the broth, Statik Selektah balances out this tendency with solid production that invokes images of the days of Hip Hop yore.
"Her life was stable until she met me. Sheltered and safe so she never gets freed. But she loves trouble she’s drawn to the danger, Never goes crazy, I bet I can change her, I could make her fall in love with a stranger, Switch up the pace, I don’t mean Danny Granger.”