Last December, I had the opportunity to record and, with the help of my friend Daniela, transcribe a candid conversation I had with dego. This is part 2 of our conversation. My childhood friend & roommate Lisa came with me to Nancy and dego’s apartment in Bedford-Stuyvesant for food and chatter, and this time they occasionally chimed in on our conversation.
If Chuck D was 21 right now he’d be saying “Oh my God I’ve got my next five albums done. Lyrically, I’m done.” And none of these fuckers say nothing. Because they’re all caught up in that materialistic bullshit.
F: Yea, I find it a little disappointing.
D: A little disappointing?! A LITTLE disappointing?! A little disappointing…
“If you start to get political, there’s usually going to be a dip. And they just want a common denominator factor to keep snowboarding on, they just want to keep drifting. It’s all about greed. It’s just about money.”
FWMJ: Yea, I mean, there are plenty of places I can go to listen people rap about how terrible the world is right now, but there are people with an actual platform where millions of people go out and buy the records – maybe not the first week, but over time the records have hit platinum – and they have that soapbox where they could say anything they want, and they choose to talk about their ex-stripper girlfriend who is now dating some other young rapper, or how they plank on a million dollars, or in Rick Ross’s case: how he’s hustling and still eats mediocre seafood. It’s like, you can tell Jay and Kanye, since I’m naming names now, know better and they’ll throw you a little bone here and there, but for the most part they make knucklehead songs just to increase their own networth. I don’t see why you can’t just do both. (laughs)
Dego: You know why they can’t just do both? Because of greed. Imagine an amazing scenario happened to me and I’ve done something and I’ve got about three million. Something like that (which, I mean, three million is nothing now, but anyway). So I know for the rest of my life I shouldn’t really end up broke; I should be okay, chilling. So if you’ve got that amount of money and you know you don’t really have to worry about working again, you should think, “Okay, I’m comfortable, what can I do now.” There’s nothing for you to worry about and you can comment on whatever. But no, they’re in the millionaires club, and now they want to be in the billionaires club. So next year they want six million. And then nine, and so on. They want to maintain that high income all the time, they don’t want to dip. If you start to get political, there’s usually going to be a dip. And they just want a common denominator factor to keep snowboarding on, they just want to keep drifting. It’s all about greed. It’s just about money.
F: I just feel like in the beginning of Kanye’s career, even though I didn’t like his music then, still don’t really like it now, I feel he was more willing to put the voice of a suburban, American black man, whose parents worked in education, was given an afro-centric name, coming out of the tail end of the black power era—you could still hear that voice in his music. And now all you hear is, “I wear fancy, expensive European designer brands, I turned my ex-stripper girlfriend into a Ford model, and I have lots of money, and you’re not up on this shit yet.” And then most of the time it’s some really, really basic shit.
D: But that’s just because he didn’t keep his feet on the ground, innit? He’s an idiot. That’s all. That’s all it is really. Because there’s a lot to talk about and he got caught up in that superficial stuff. A lot of people, once they start earning a lot of money and get into a different circle of friends and so on and so forth, they sometimes forget where they come from. They sometimes forget, get caught up in that. If all you do is go to runway shows, and you start designing stuff or whatever, and the family isn’t there to pull him down and keep him in touch, and so on – that happens to a lot of people. It’s unfortunate, but that’s how it is. It’s rubbish. All the things that are going on in the world and that’s what you’re going to rap about.
F: “Black opulence.” (laughs)
D: It’s rubbish. I know part of rapping is this whole bravado, boasting this, that, and the other – I know that’s part of it. That’s part of the whole battle thing. But still.
F: Well it used to be about skills—
D: Yea, it used to be. But it’s funny how the boasting and bragging thing transformed. Because back in the day people had nothing to boast and brag about – they boasted and bragged about what they would have, that they were aspiring to have something. And now you’ve got these people who’ve got something and are bragging about it. And when you have something, you shouldn’t be bragging about it, really and truthfully. Because those that don’t have it usually try to create an illusion that they’re bigger than they are.
F: Me and my boy Damien commented when Watch The Throne came out, how it was straight, one-percenter, corporate hip-hop. For much of Jay-Z’s career, I’ve always found a good fifth of his narrative as, “I am a lot richer than you, and I’m better than you because I am rich. Now buy my records and make me richer.” And people run out in droves to do so. The same people that’ll sit there on some “Occupy Wall Street” and say “Fuck the 1%, the world is unfair, these corporations are stealing from us,” will turn around and buy a Jay-Z record or a Kanye record so that they can be richer. And these people still pay rent, don’t own their own home or…
D: But it’s funny: in general with people, and I don’t know if it’s out of habit, but a lot of things that people do they don’t really think about. They’re not conscious enough about a lot of things that they’re doing. They don’t question themselves.
F: I don’t know why I’m disappointed by that, but I always am. Everytime it becomes apparent to me that people just don’t think about they shit they do, they just do it because of some low level conditioning. And then once it bites them in the ass they’re like, “Oooh…”
“I feel that [Hip Hop’s] gotten a whole lot better… the production is a lot better; but then we’re still rapping about selling crack in 2011. I thought the crack era was in the 80s.
D: A lot of people won’t see the irony of all that. Hence why I say I can’t be bothered. (laughs)
F: (laughs) What are you going to do, just go find yourself a little island with a coconut tree? You should get an island like that Virgin Records dude.
D: Richard Branson?
F: Yea, just have a couple of palm trees and a power outlet to plug in your private jet and equipment and that’s it.
D: It’s a sad state of affairs.
F: It really shouldn’t be. Especially with hip-hop, I feel that it’s gotten a whole lot better—
D: Excuse me?
F: No, I mean when it’s really good as far as, like, now people don’t have to sample anymore, although I prefer it when they do. Now there are people who actually know musicians, know their instruments, or at the very least can produce musicians to make a good sound — the production is a lot better; but then we’re still rapping about selling crack in 2011.
I thought the crack era was in the 80s. My dad specifically kept overseas [military] assignments so that me and my sister didn’t have to grow up here in the crack era. He was trying to stay in the Philippines his entire career and then we had to leave after seven years, so he went to England and then was trying to stay there. The only reason we came back to the States is because the Cold War ended and we had no need for nuclear surface-to-air missiles anymore.
D: [Royal Air Force Base] Greenham Common. Lot of protesting there boy. They did not like that there… (laughs)
F: Yeah the bag ladies [protestors] used to fill up water balloons full of piss and throw them at the cars as they would enter the base. Like, “Really? We’re just trying to go to Church. There’s two kids in the back seat. Come on now…” (laughs)
F: Surface-to-air nuclear missiles. The missile site was about 2 miles away from where we would have our boy scout meetings. Imagine if the Russians popped off, you’d be in the tent, roasting hot dogs and there’d be a war going on just over there.
D: But at least in those days people were much more aware of stuff, there were more demonstrations and protests going on all the time. I remember that time in the 80s. People were always trying to make their voices heard. Which is funny about this whole Occupy thing right now; for the past twenty years, people have said nothing. They haven’t marched or protested or striked about anything. Protests are seen as an inconvenience. The Unions have been killed off.
F: I mean, yeah. The other day I was with my friend going to help him find a $140 pair of jeans, and the Occupy protesters were in Times Square. And I was more concerned with how much time it would take for me to get to the subway from the store so that we could go see a movie later. So you go from buyin’ $140 jeans, to going to a $14 movie, with a $12 cab ride on the way. All total first world problems. (laughs)
But I was like, “UGH, I can’t be bothered with these people, go Occupy across the street.” I think people, at least Americans anyway, have been comfortable for too long. They don’t know how to protest. And clearly there’s no overall agenda for Occupy Wall Street, it’s just “Let’s be messy and get in the way.”
D: No, there is an agenda, it’s just that not everybody knows it.
F: Not everybody knows it, and not every one protesting is on the same page.
D: Well, I don’t agree with that because there is an agenda, and the agenda is people are not happy, and they have no representation, and their voices are not heard. Now, the different points that everyone has, we don’t know: but what do you expect, it’s a bunch of people getting together, it’s not a political party that sat down and drew out this manifesto. This is about people who just want to be heard. You are reminding politicians and those in power that you are here, you are there, you are paid by us, and you are there to serve us, and you’re meant to see that you have our best interests at heart. You’re meant to see that all the children have a good level of education, you’re meant to see that all of us have a good level of health care, there are all these different things that you’re supposed to look out for and not be working at the whim of whatever fucking bank. And I think that’s the only message. That is it. That’s what people are saying: “You’ve failed us for too long.” It doesn’t have to be pin pointed like the Tea Party or whatever.
It doesn’t have to be specific. Everyone is harking on what it’s about, but if you can’t understand what it’s about and why people are angry and fed up by now . . . if you don’t understand that now, then you’re never going to understand that and you’re practically an idiot.
F: (laughs uncontrollably)
D: I’m sorry, but if you can’t understand that now, you’re a fucking idiot and fuck off, because you obviously don’t care. The world should be a place where people are able to live a life with a certain level of comfort where they can look after their families and so on and so forth and have some time for themselves to enjoy life. All the people around the world are meant to be like that.
This business of “These people are struggling” and whatever and fighting to make ends meet and someone else at the other end of the scale is fucking, you know, throwing caviar out every five seconds, is wrong. And don’t get me wrong: I know there are some lazy fuckers or whatever where you want to say, “Get off your ass and do something, you don’t deserve anything.” don’t get me wrong, I know they’re out there and I understand that. But it’s swung too far. What about graduates that come out now? Where are they going to work, what are they going to do? They come out and before their first day of work they owe like 30 thousand dollars…
F: I find education to be the biggest swindle in this country. Ever since we were like, you know babies, people tell you “You need to go to college and get yourself a—
D: “…a good job!” Yeah. (mockingly)
F: And by the time this entire generation did that—everybody is already college educated so, when there’s a whole bunch of something, it means nothing. Which means you have to go get another advanced degree.
Nancy Jimbo: Not even that, apparently there’s more student debt than there is credit debt nowadays. It used to not be that way.
F: Debt is what keeps everyone in America in check, because you will work a shitty fucking job that you hate just to pay down student loan debt; because those are worse than any other kind. I mean, if you owe the government . . . that’s the worst shit.
So everybody comes out thinking, we may be smarter and better educated than our parents were, but we’re already a full fucking house price tag behind. We’re not starting at zero, we’re starting at negative whatever. Say you went to medical school, you’ll probably come out 200K in debt. And then what happens if our health care gets straight and everybody gets some decent health care like the other more socialist countries and doctors aren’t getting paid their ridiculous salaries anymore? Oh they’ll be pissed. They’ll be Occupying everything.
N: And how does this affect music?
D: How does this effect music? Well, number one, if people are feeling the pinch you’re not going to buy music, you’re going to buy food. All you’re going to care about is keeping a roof over your head and being able to eat. So music is luxury. If there were music people wanted to buy anyway.
F: Nope! (laughs)
D: Then technology as well as fucked over the music industry as well. I’ve been in a recession, great depression now as you all call it, from a long time ago. Everyone’s cussing now and saying times are hard. *pbthhhhhhhhh!* I’m way ahead of you lot, easily, by ten years. The rug’s been pulled out from under the feet of industry.
F: Yea, the minute I realized I never had to pay for any music ever again, I mean . . . it was a conflict for me because clearly there are artists that I really like, and the artists I generally like are usually broke, and that’s why I like their music because they rap or sing about stuff that another human can actually relate to, not somebody with a gold castle and body armor, and they walk around with black cards and buying entire countries because they’re bored.
So clearly if I’m going to pay for any music I’m going to want to support those people, and what’s the only way to actually do that: if they come to town, you go to their shows and buy their merchandise and music directly from them if you can. But you’ll see me bitching and moaning on Twitter all day, because I’m always railing against major labels, because as much money as they’ve fleeced out of artists, rather than trying to change with and support the technology they try to vilified it to the point where people just do it out of spite. If something is on a major record label I refuse to pay for it.
That’s me on my 99% right there: those guys have enough money. I don’t need to give them anything so that they can put another sail on their yacht. I’m good. (laughs) I’d rather buy some shit off of Bandcamp where I know Pay Pal is taking something like 5% out of the ten dollars I pay, but the rest of it is going to them, not some jackass that had nothing to do with the creation of the music. But then there are a lot of people who aren’t like that and would rather buy their music off of iTunes because it’s more convenient for them, and they can put it on their cloud. There are a lot of people who don’t think about that when they buy records, about how much of that money actually goes towards the artists that they like.
D: Well that’s the same with everything in life, innit? It’s like when you go and buy that cheap t-shirt or whatever you don’t think about that kid that’s getting paid one pea a month to make it.
D: It’s true innit? People don’t think about where things are coming from and how we can get them for so cheap. People don’t think back steps. So we go and buy these things. And it harks back to the same thing: governments and politicians around the world are supposed to look after and serve the people. It’s 2011. We shouldn’t be in that situation where we’ve got kids working for that silly little money. We shouldn’t be in that place. After all the world’s gone through – all the wars and all the different things that happened – and there are still things like child labor, slave labor. I mean, come on. You’ve got these highly educated people in power that have meant to have studied this, that, and the other about history and so forth, and still this is going on. And I don’t care if the country is poor or whatever – they should know better.
F: Well it seems as though most of the poor countries are rich in resources but they have those post colonial powers with their tentacles all over it. But that’s a whole other thing.
D: Yea, don’t even get me started on that.
“Kreayshawn is excellent, now stop dissing her.”
N: What’s the last record you bought?
F: The last record I paid for? I can’t even remember the last album I paid for. Like a major label record or just anything.
N: Give me the last 5.
F: Um, I bought dego’s last record with emusic.com. I don’t know how much of that actually went to you…
D: Probably like 10% (laughs)
F: If you had bandcamp you know…
F: I think that might be the last record I paid for. A lot of the music I actually listen to are friends of mine. And a lot of them aren’t making physical product at all. I can’t remember the last album I paid for.
D: Well, we’re in December, right? Twenty years ago in December we’d sit around and say, “Okay, give me your top ten of the year – albums, singles.” But now, today, in 2011 . . . I bet you can’t even think of five things you heard this year that you’ll think, “Oh yeah, this year was great for that track.” You struggle to make the list.
F: I can’t. I mean, definitely not hip-hop or anything. The barrier of entry is so low now. Everyone nowadays has Garage Band and Fruity Loops and their own shitty little computer mic and putting out, you know, Kreayshawn-ass mixtapes.
D: Kreayshawn is excellent, now stop dissing her.
F: [clutches chest, suffering from heart burn noises]
“Black music has just turned into the most horrible, elementary, juvenile crap. It’s disgusting and embarrassing if you consider where it’s come from and all that’s been done… R&B’s dead, you know what I mean? We’ve got euro trance for fuck’s sake. R&B turned into euro trance music. That’s fucking amazing.”
N: Let’s talk about the good—
F: Nah, let’s talk about Kreayshawn.
D: You need to get with Kreayshawn. Don’t be one of those people, that in a few years I come across you and you’re like “I like her now.”
F: [to Nancy] He’s already moving back to London, so I’m done with him. You start bumpin’ Kreayshawn and we’re done.
D: I’m bumpin’ Kreayshawn! You know I’m bumpin’ it! “bumpin’ bumpin’!” (laughs)
D: I love Kreayshawn! It’s think it’s tremendous. It’s funny man. It’s been a while since any comedy stuff has come out.
F: She doesn’t find it funny, she means it.
D: Whatever. Well, I find it very funny. I think she’s incredibly funny. I get more entertainment out of her than, uh, what’s the name, Waka Flocka. You tell me Kreayshawn has a new video or track, I’m straight away going to YouTube to look at it. You tell me Waka Flocka has a new video and I’m going to look at you and say, “Why’re you telling me that nonsense.” I think Kreayshawn is incredibly entertaining. She’s like Dave Chappelle…if he was doing a character, I feel he might do something like Kreayshawn.
F: Yea, she’s like a Dave Chappelle skit; I’m waiting for the punch line. The punch line is she got a million dollar deal, meanwhile…well, clearly music isn’t a meritocracy.
D: Kreayshawn, she’s better than 50 Tyson and all them things
N: It’s entertaining, it’s so bad, it’s funny
F: I can’t laugh.
D: I find the whole thing entertaining. Real funny. It’s ironic.
F: It’s only ironic if she feels so. But she means it soooo bad.
D: But that’s what makes it better!
F: Ugh! [chokes self]
D: But that’s what makes it better, that’s what’s so committed to the act…that she’s lost herself in it. Don’t you find that funny? It’s quite funny. It’s sad, there’s no other way, but it’s funny.
F: I think Riff Raff is funny.
D: Frank, if tomorrow I found out there’s a new Kreayshawn, If I message you and am like, “Hey Frank, you gotta check out the new Kreayshawn” . . . you’re gonna check it out. You gotta check it out.
F: I don’t have to.
D: You don’t have to, but you’re gonna want to.
F: I already know I don’t like Kreayshawn, so I don’t have to further investigate to make sure. But I find Riff-Raff hilarious.
D: What’s Riff Raff?
F: Look up Riff Raff and Marc Jacobs.
D: The designer Marc Jacobs?
F: Yea, [Riff Raff] doesn’t wear Roca Wear or Phat Farm, he wears Marc Jacobs. He has a BET and MTV tattoo on his neck. He’s from Houston.
*dego looks up Riff Raff’s “Marc Jacobs” video, music plays in background*
F: The best thing is that no one in that video is wearing Marc Jacobs. (laughs & raps along)
Lisa: This is awful.
*dego closes Youtube window*
F: (still rapping along) “…slangin’ boost mobile, bitch I’m global / dropped testarossa got my face on a poster / I’m a poster child, and I’m versatile…”
N: What is it that you guys do like?
F: Nice try. Nice try. Nice try to spin this into a positive conversation—We’re not going to let it happen. We’ll sit here arms folded— (laughs)
Actually, the last show I went to was… with Lisa…Foster The People and The Cults, I think?
D: What’s that?
F: Indie Rock shit?
L: Foster the People’s not even indie, the Cults are…
D: That’s funny though, indie rock, whether it’s proper indie rock or not. So, this is what’s disappointing to me, okay: with all that’s going on in music, their ability to still be progressive and experimental still continues. I mean, a lot of times people will hark on them and compare them to bands past, but they still kind of move on and do their own thing that way.
Black music has just turned into the most horrible, elementary, juvenile crap. It’s disgusting and embarrassing if you consider where it’s come from and all that’s been done. They’ve really just turned into a nonsense. The equivalent of Sly and the Family Stone today doesn’t exist. The equivalent of Herbie Hancock does not exist. The equivalent of Miles Davis does not exist. The equivalent of Stevie Wonder does not exist. R&B’s dead, you know what I mean? We’ve got euro trance for fuck’s sake. R&B turned into euro trance music. That’s fucking amazing.
N: But also dego, weren’t u saying that now Black Music is just called Urban?
D: No, no, no it’s not even—now it’s just called pop. It’s wiped out. Black music’s been wiped out, it’s dead, it’s gone. I think it’s wiped out.
N: Your genre says Black Music…
D: That’s me. Me and my own is doing that.
F: (laughs) And the little pockets where it gets made, nobody wants to pay for it.
D: In indie rock, if we start talking about the greats and who is the modern day Bob Dylan or the nowaday David Bowie – while it’s hard to make comparisons, the person somebody is today is who they are today– we could still have a conversation of, “Oh they have that kind of vibe and that sense of direction and energy of that person,” and you could draw those comparisons.
Black music: sorry. There’s a void. The whole thing’s just gone. That’s why everyone harks on about D’angelo coming back or goes on about Lauryn Hill coming back, because they’re the last set of people of a certain standard and level of success that you can draw comparisons to other people in the past. Now, nothing’s happening. Beyonce? Fuck off – joke ting. Joke ting. That’s it. No one’s doing anything. They were hoping for Janelle Monae to lead something, but she’s leaning more towards the indie rock kind of thing. And that’s the other thing: all the black artists want to be white. They feel like if there only one way for them to be successful it’s to do white music.
F: Because that’s “forward thinking”.
D: Yea, that’s forward thinking and whatever. And I love lots of white music and all that stuff as well, but when it’s such a conscious decision to do that and you can see right through it. There are obviously going to be overlaps and so on. Steely Dan overlaps loads of shit I always liked. I love Steely Dan, I know they weren’t purposely trying to do black music, they were doing their own thing, but there was a lot of things they’ve done that overlapped with black music; marvelous. You can tell when it sincerely just happens to cross over.
F: Well it happens to a lot of independent bands that become successful. I find it interesting that with black music artists, their first records will definitely be coming from their experience, their personal experience, you know which is probably a black experience in the Americas, in new world, right? But then when once they sign a deal or get into the system, they start thinking about all their marketing and it as industry, as a business, before they even get to start thinking about the music, and then that starts to color their music (pun!). But then it’s not simply art anymore. It may be artful, but it’s commercial art.
It’s like anytime someone comes to play me some shit, and they are like “oh, this is my record for the girls.” You consciously thought “I need to make a record for bitches”. (mockingly) But then “The rest of the record, 80% of the record, I’m selling drugs and shooting mother fuckers, but on that one song—I’m stealing every girl in the world’s heart…”
F: “buy ’em all the bottles of the alcohol they want in the club, I’ma make ’em eggs ‘n’ toast in the morning, before I kick ’em out the crib and do it all over,” or whatever a rapper has to do to maintain his macho image.
D: It’s a sad state of affairs.
“All those types of things to help with like the inner city kids… most of that funding for all that stuff? Gone. … Then they complain about them rioting and shit.”
D: That’s why I’m like, “Fuck it. Fuck it.” Can’t fight it.
F: But if you quit, then what do we have left?
D: Well that’s why I’m really ready to just do the most random, grandiose, mad music and just give it to my friends. As for the rest of them, I don’t give a fuck. That’s what I’m really ready for. And just laugh. Laugh at people. I’m ready. I’ve done all I’ve done, and there are younger people who should be taking over the bat are getting ready to do what they need to do. I’ve got nothing to prove. So it’s all good. You know what I mean?
F: But what’s going to happen to kids later? They’re going to listen to the garbage now and think that’s the shit. Like, you play kids Illmatic now, and they think it’s wack. Weird. I could see the production sounding dated, but dude is rapping.
D: Yeah, that’s the horrible thing. I keep talking about history: In order to do better, to become more refined, you’ve got to know you’re history, you’ve got to know what’s happened in the past. If you’re not researching and studying the consequences of people’s past actions and the conclusions, then how are things going to progress?
And these kids, they think old school was five years ago. “that’s an old school jam!” acting like they’re old, like they’re 60 something. “I used to love this shit back in the day!” You’re fucking 21, what the fuck you know about back in the day?! There ain’t no back in the day for you, you’re just growing. Fuck off!
*FWMJ & Lisa laugh hysterrically*
D: And they’re referring to something that was made in 2005.
F: Some Nelly & Ashanti.
D: And then they’re like “Oh god! Oh, shi—I’m gonna sample that shit!” You’re going to sample something that was made in 2005? Crazy.
N: They don’t even recognize folks either. Even current people. I was on the train, and you know the Lion King [broadway] posters were hanging up and the mother lion has like this big lion head, wrap thing on. And this kid was like “Yo, isn’t that Erykah Badu?” and his friend was like “Yeah, that’s Erykah.”
And I was like—
“What the fuck?! That’s not Erykah Badu!” (laughs) They can’t even visually get it right. dego nearly spit his food out when I told him that story…
F: *facepalm* Ugh, god…
D: You don’t know what the Lion King is. I mean, You might not be into broadway as a child, but you know, you should know what the Lion-fucking-King is.
D: What the fuck do you lot do? What do they do? What do they do?!
F: I don’t know, man! (laughs)
D: What do they do? What do they read? I’d like to just spend a week with them.
I’ve been thinking about going back and doing some sort of youth educational, informative program, but all the funding’s been taken away so you can’t even help that way. Even if you want to try and help you can’t fucking help.
“Austerity Measures.” (mockingly)
And what do the conservatives do: take away the funding for that stuff. All those types of things to help with like the inner city kids and this that and the other, most of that funding for all that stuff? Gone. That’s one of the first things they took away when they came into power.
Then they complain about them rioting and shit. (laughs)
F: They don’t got nothing to do. (laughs)