First of all the cover...how did the idea for it come around?
I just wanted to poke fun at the idea of being a star or an icon. For me the idea is strange to put yourself out there as an artist like ‘look at me’. But it’s just the nature of the beast. I would see photos of airbrushed cholas or different cats posing in pics that were shot at these glamour shot places in LA so I went on a search to find the perfect spot. An analog photo spot. It was hard because the computer program Photoshop took over the game and most of these spots are digital opposed to the hand-painted back drop photo spots. But eventually I found the perfect spot. This guy had over 50 different hand-airbrushed tarps. It was amazing. From planetary space scenes to trees and chipmunks. I took like 10 different flicks with different backdrops for 50 bucks.
You've been rappin' for a while, but this is the first time you hold down a record rhymewise?
I am definitely curious what people are going to think of the album, but it was something I had to do. I’ve always rapped and have always been recording. Beats always came first but I still had these songs that I wanted people to hear and I never put it out. So this time I wanted to make sure I put my new material out. I think this album will really give you a look into who I am. It’s one of those records that you will have to listen to all the way through to really correctly understand.
Did that bring another kind of pressure?
Yes, there is a new pressure to perform and to please fans with what’s on the beats. But I love my album and usually that’s all it takes for the listener to love my shit, bump my shit. (laughs)
Could you name the four main ingredients of your rhymes? Let us take a guess: one of them is humour?
Humour is part of what I do but there’s a lot of real shit on my album too. A lot about how I grew up, a lot of real drama’s that made me who I am. There are a lot of conversations with myself on this album as well that reveal insecurities and a lot of my ‘I don't give a fuck’-attitude as well. A lot of the album I would make beats just to make beats as I always do. But when I make beats, I freestyle to them to make sure the beats are right for an MC. Sometimes the rap was so cold I had to press ‘record’ on the old 4trk-tape and just go in and freestyle until I stumbled. Then punch in to pick up where I left off. No paper. I only wrote down like a quarter of the album the rest no paper…
How was it to not only express yourself in the music, but also in the lyrics? Was it difficult to share other aspects of Exile?
It wasn't difficult; it was a necessity for me. Some shit I would go through in life I could only let go of it after I spoke about it with lyrics turning a pain into an accomplishment.
You've worked with so many talented emcees, are there some of them that got you inspired / schooled you in particular for this own rap album?
Blu most definitely helped me with critiques and what not, but yeah I’m sure they influenced me as do any rappers I hear. But not in a way where I was thinking about them and their style. Honestly I was probably rapping before all the rappers I work with. (laughs)
You seem to feel comfortable in duo’s, where you handle all production for one emcee -think Blu, Fashawn, Johaz, Aloe Blacc. Almost like the classic (old school) formula. Do you think that is the best way to make a record consistent? What is the difference with for instance working on the 'Dirty Science' record?
I think it’s fun to produce whole albums especially when the MC is unknown at first. It’s the same appeal a DJ has when he breaks records but a way bigger feeling. It’s dope to help someone come up and in return they help you come up. I think that’s what working with someone is all about. ‘Dirty Science’ was a record where I could pick a broader range of beats for different emcees or vocalists. I was able to think of who I would want to work with and really show off my different styles. Some rappers I have done whole albums with for instance maybe wouldn’t sound good on a beat, whereas Slum Village or Ghostface would sound good on.
Your long-time partner Aloe Blacc has blown up last year with his soul record. It was at least ten times a day on Belgium radio. How proud are you that you're part of his musical history / how rewarding did that feel for yourself?
It felt real good to see him finally win in his singing career. I used to play the MPC and DJ for his band, but the level of his showmanship tripled since then. I saw him play with his band The Scheme Team for the first time in LA at the Echoplex and it was incredible. At one point it brought me to tears, I am so proud of Aloe, that’s my brother. But me and him have an amazing album together coming out next year as Emanon. It’s called ‘Birds Eye View’.
The follow-up for 'Below the Heavens', the collab between you and Blu, is in the making: can you share some info on that?
We still gonna do a couple more songs and then it’s done. Be on the look out.
What has the influence of 'Below The Heavens' been on your career?
It gave me the response I always wanted in one of my albums. The influence it gave me is to keep making dope shit. I always wanted to make albums like Dre, Marley Marl and Primo did. Classic and consistent where the whole record is produced by just them and that’s what I’m doing. I feel blessed to be able to live my dream. I’m already here but now there is still so much more to do.
We at the office were delighted to hear you had a project with Johaz coming up - big Deep Rooted fans as we are - how did that collab come to life?
Me and Johaz have always seen each other around and we’ve known his dancers Sessie and Boosie for years. We just met and got along. Johaz just has that type of energy I enjoy working with. I think Johaz has that wild energy at shows and on record people will just get amped to hear. Our group is called Dag Savage.
The track you did with Pharoahe Monch, is one of our favourite tracks of the year so far, how did you hook up with Monch? So how amped were you when your heard his verses over your beat?
I was hella ‘amped’! Monch has been on my wish list for a minute. He came to the crib and we vibed for a sec. I began to play him beats and he was mad open off them. At one point he said something about me doing his whole album but that didn't happen…ahh that would have been dope. We gonna work again.
I guess about two years ago we saw a Youtube video where you were improvising on the drum machine, making a hell of a beat. You blew us away. I only recently discovered you did that for live stage performances as well... how do you prepare for that? And what mindset do you need to get in such an improvising zone?
I need a loud system with mad low end to truly get open live on the MPC. I just wanted to use the MPC somehow like a live instrument for my Father - RIP. To show him I can get down live, so he would respect what I do.
What's great about a 4-track recorder? Does it oblige you to be more creative?
I came from 4trk hip-hop music, pre-internet pre-Pro Tools where you had to be creative to make a song work. Underground hip-hop had more of a mystique to it back then. When the homie had a ill tape he would only dub it for someone who really had love and understanding of raw hip-hop. People were more selfish with their hip-hop we didn't want it in the wrong hands. But ‘ya’, 4 tracks, one for vocals, one for drums, one for the sample and one for scratches and back up vocals.
The Beatles were one of the first groups to use the 4-track technique...as an artist and music adept you must be a fan, but would you say you get inspiration out of their music, do you study their records for instance to get a clue about the recording techniques?
Nah, I did not study the Beatles. I studied more like Hobo Junction, Project Blowed, Living Legends, CDP, Mysteries Extinction.
Please, tell us the secret of your diet? (chuckles)
No meat, no cheese for the past two months. Juicing veggie and fruits. Lots of beans. Running, skateboards, bikes, and sex.
What records are in your iPod right now?
I don't own a iPod. But I’ve been bumping MED, Jay Electronica, Fashawn, Odd Future, The Congas,…
What's next for Exile?
Dag Savage, Emanon, Working with No ID, Snoop Dogg, Whiz Kalifa, Big Sean, Adad, Fashawn, Co$$, Blame one, Dirty Science Records! Re-working my father’s music from the 50's.