The first single with Tash doesn't really sound like 'background music'. Please explain the title...
Eso Tre: ‘Background Music’ sums up the state of hip-hop to us. The music stopped having any kind of feeling, much like the music you hear when you're getting your teeth drilled. It's just there. Whereas once there was always something to get excited about, now it's like ‘look, there's another hip-hop album out. Woopty doo.’ The saddest thing about it is that is seems like nowadays people prefer music that is staid and devoid of feeling, because that somehow makes it seem ‘realer’ to them. Hence the question we posed on the track with Tash: why do fools try to hate when your track has flava?
That flava is built on the sound of '21 & Over' and 'Coast II Coast'...what other 90's records influenced you for this album?
Subz: I think a lot of the early 90's hip-hop is just engrained in us. We didn't say ‘let's do an album like ‘Illmatic’ or ‘Step In The Arena’, but at the same time we have a bit of that vibe so it shines through.
We haven't heard the rest of the album yet, please explain to us the vibe...
Eso Tre: If you look at the progression of a lot of groups that came out of the early 90's era of hip-hop, the sophomore album almost inevitably represented a sort of darker, yet at the same time more polished approach to doing music. ‘De La Soul is Dead’ had the whole ‘we're not hippies’-theme to it. Brand Nubian's ‘In God We Trust’ and KMD's ‘Black Bastards’ both had grittier, harder lyrics than the debut albums for each of these groups. ‘Background Music’ follows the same trend. We are talking about the circumstances and situations that made us who we are, which we believe are quite unique. That's another meaning behind the name of the album.
As for the production, on 'Overproof' it was very live, organic, so you’re not going back to that?
Subz: I think ‘Background Music’ is still very live and organic. I think it is more polished and cohesive than ‘Overproof’ while still carrying the elements of hip-hop with the lyrics a rapper's rapper would appreciate and beats that are well crafted.
Other featured artists besides Tash are MC Eiht, Percee P, Myka Nine and Sadat X, how's it like to work with those big artists?
Eso Tre: Working with Eiht was one of the most surreal experiences for us. Dude is a legend and a down-to-earth cat and it seemed like he really appreciated what we were trying to do on the track with him. Myka Nyne is family and we hope he is always involved in our music in some way. Being Brand Nubian fans, working with Sadat was a really great experience to us as well. The song we did with him is called ‘Three Sheets to the Wind’ and we talk about the ups and downs of getting liquored up. One of the few tracks where literally Substance Abuse is addressed.
On the previous album you had MF Doom, Saafir, Kool Keith...to be honoust in our memory we remembered those features better than the rest of the album until we checked it out again. Aren't you afraid that with such prolific guests the rest of the album faints to the background?
Subz: Not at all. The people who checked out our album due to having MF Doom and Kool Keith saw that we can hang with them lyrically and that opened them up to check out and like the rest of the album. The same will happen with ‘Background Music’. All of the records we cut with guests were planned out and brought out the best in all of us.
You seem to keep a balance between West Coast artists and East Coast rappers, on purpose?
Eso Tre: There definitely was no agenda in terms of keeping a balance between LA and NY rappers. We just went who we felt would go good with the particular track we were doing. There's a song called ‘Paper Tigers’ on the album that features Myka and Percee, both renowned for their ability to spit fast verses. The fact that they hailed from different coasts in just coincidental. We would love to do a track with a rapper from the Mid West or South provided it fit the vibe of the song.
Percee P says hip-hop in L.A. is different 'because women will come with their homegirls to see someone rock at a spot like The Airliner when they could have been at some trendy club in Hollywood. They really appreciate hip-hop.'
Subz: I think there are good female turn-outs at hip-hop shows in LA because it's not pretentious like going to a Hollywood club. Shows in L.A. have a great atmosphere because it's al about having fun. It doesn’t hurt that the music seen is so big out here with an endless choice of shows to go to.
I'M THE MAN
What are some of the most impressive performances you remember?
Eso Tre: Subz and I went to some show in Redlands, CA where Conscious Daughters, Hieroglyphics, Pharcyde, and Jeru were performing. It was before Jeru dropped his first album. I remember this little dude came out ripping the most insane verse, and it took him getting half way through it before everyone realized it was Lil Dap from Group Home doing his verse from ‘I'm the Man’. Peeps were going nuts. Then Jeru got on and killed it.
Now about performing yourself...you have a love-hate relationship with it right? Have you found techniques yet to get a hard crowd on your hands?
Subz: I like performing. I think a little bit of nervousness is healthy beforehand but when we get on stage it turns to excitement and wanting to give our best. I think interaction is crucial to getting the crowd to feel you. A dope freestyle or a capella helps.
But performing with the likes of Kool Keith, Fellowship and Souls Of Mischief have certainly built your rep/name, right?
Eso Tre: To a certain extent. I think the kind of people who go to their shows definitely appreciate the kind of stuff that we do, but sometimes it's hard to be seen as more than just an opening act when people aren't familiar with your music.
Do you want the music you make to become mainstream?
Subz: Yes because it deserves to be heard. I would still be cool if it wasn't mainstream but had enough followers worldwide who appreciate what we are doing. The world is a big place.
You guys are heavy hip-hop fans, Eso Tre, you're also a hip-hop writer. So when you listen to hip-hop, do you listen as an artist, a critic, or a fan?
Eso Tre: People always told me I should be a music journalist and I was like ‘fuck that, I hate those guys’. But now I see it as a way to get my views across in addition to our music. Many of the music reviews I read are rife with ignorance and make comparisons that really leave me scratching my head. So writing about what I like, gives me an opportunity to set the record straight on things, as someone who's been down with this culture since way back when. A lot of hip-hop journalists are new booties who can only tell you who's who in the hip-hop scene, but don't know dope if it lands on their heads, 'cause they ain't really lived this shit.
When you listen to Two Kings In A Cipher, do you listen as a critic?
Eso Tre: I listen with a sense of pride. Glad to know about a group that should have gotten way more props then they did. It's still fun to me to like stuff that a lot of people don't know about.
The title of your song with Rasco is 'Everyone's a critic'? A good thing or a bad thing?
Eso Tre: When I wrote that track, I was thinking about how many hip-hop journalists in the late 90's would dismiss things that they hadn't been told was ok to like. If you weren't in the in crowd or associated with such and such label, certain writers would front on you. Why would we let people like this influence our opinions? The line "embracing the lie that our opinions ain't affecting them" reflects that. These dudes don't know more than the average hip-hop head, but somehow they were still put on a high pedestal. I was like ‘fuck these dudes, they don't know shit.’
BRAND NEW CRIME
Before going towards the end of this interview, let's take it back once again to the 'Brand New Crime' EP. It was released on Rocketship Records. They also worked with Emanon (Aloe Blacc and Exile), Zion I (AmpLive and Zumbi), and Styles of Beyond, did you meet them, were you down with them or..?
Eso Tre: I went to UCSB with Erik Solo, one of the founders of that label, who Subz and I met at some party where there was an open mic. I don't want to embarrass him too much, but he was sort of a legendary figure in the 805 hip-hop community. Erik had our back from day one and always believed in what we did. He's a great rapper and all around nice fella. He saw the vision for what were we’re trying to accomplish and it seemed to coincide with what his group mic.edu was doing. Putting that tape together was a really fun experience.
It's been re-released in 2010, the money went to cancer patients....what was the motivation behind that?
Eso Tre: The kind-hearted people at the label Circle Into Square wanted to put that money to good use and we applaud them for it. We lost our good friend Lafura Jackson AKA A-Twice to cancer and it's only right that the proceeds from that EP go to curing that terrible disease.
The album cover has a dope drawing...
Eso Tre: Indeed. It's very risqué.
What's Nebz Supreme's nastiest habit in the studio?
Eso Tre: Nebz' nastiest habit would have to be being too polite. Asking you if you want another beer or food or simply going out of his way to make sure you were having a good time during the session. Nebz is good people.
What's next for you guys?
Subz: Starting an institute for rappers who can't rap good.
Our homie REK-RAP, Philm One, Da Stig, Del Rio, Jeramiah the web guru and Waes One up in Oakland. Phat shout out to Ballin PR. Big ups to Dr. New Agey and Eddie Vic for letting us record at their studios back in the deeznays. And of course, Kofie and Trixter for their artwork.