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Prime Element is a hip-hop act that's more concerned with being timeless than relevant

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Prime Element began as 3 the Hardway, three hip-hop heads -- an MC, a producer and a DJ -- devoted to celebrating a culture they love through positivity, hard work and great music. Their name has obviously since changed, as has their label affiliation since Set in Stone, their last release, but what makes them a special group never has. Prime Element remains a hardnosed, old-school, local hip-hop powerhouse that won't make music any way other than how they believe it was meant to be made.

See also: Get a sneak peek of Prime Element's new EP

Prime Element's new release Welcome to the Future, which will be issued on the act's own House of Waxx Recordings imprint, marks a new step for them into self reliance, though they always have been, to a large degree, controllers of their own destiny. The members feel more practiced, skilled and ready than ever to take their music to the next level. In advance of the group's release show tomorrow night at the Solution, we chopped it up with the guys for a bit.

Westword: How did the three of you meet?

Es-Nine: I knew Dent, Dent knew SP Double. He [A.V.I.U.S.] had a group with SP Double. He [Cysko] had done some recording at our studio that I worked at. So that's how I knew Cysko, and that was in like 2003, 2004.

I guess you had probably worked together before you decided to make an official group.

EN: Yeah, at that point we were all pushing out to do music. I had a little [reputation] for producing because I had done some stuff with KRS-One and some other known national artists. I left my label at the time. We kind of parted ways, mutually. I kept in contact with [A.V.I.U.S.]. I met him through just hanging out with Dent. And then myself, SP Double and [A.V.I.U.S.] were like, "Let's see if we can do a group."

So we tried for a little bit, and kind of went ways. Me and A.V.I.U.S. kept in contact, and we were just like, "How about you come over, and we'll record some music. See what happens." The first song we recorded ended up being, like, "Wow. Alright, there's good chemistry there." Kept going after that.

And with [Cysko,] we're like, "Man, we need a DJ." Because I started initially deejaying myself, but at that point, I was wearing way too many hats. I was recording all the music, mixing all the music, producing all the music. At that time, we were kind of co-writing together a lot of the material.

And then, to perform, we need to make it legitimate and have a DJ. His skills on the turntables are insane. So we approached him, and we kept talking, and he did some cuts for his first album, and I was like, "Man, this stuff sounds really good." And I think we did one show, right?

A.V.I.U.S.: Yeah, we did a show at the Fox Theatre with GZA of Wu Tang, and it kind of started there. We decided to put a group together.

EN: Well, after that, we had done another show with [Cysko] and that's kinda where we were like, "Yeah, that feels a lot better," because at that time, I was trying to handle turntables and backup vocals on the stage, and I was like, "I don't know."

I was actually going to ask about that because a lot of groups or artists have DJs when they perform live, but it's not necessarily part of the group. So what do you think having an in-group DJ -- how do you think that helps the music?

EN: I think if he's not part of the group... Hip-hop comes from the DJs. I'm a DJ myself. I started as a DJ. I've been embedded in the culture from the beginning, and if you do your homework, as far as trying to come up in the game, it all started with two turntables before the MCs started rapping. Before, it used to be that the DJ was the centerpiece, and the MC was just the host trying to big-up the DJ. I think that's how it should be.

That's always referred to as the backbone of hip-hop. I believe it's true. Without the DJ, it seems a little weird. It's always looked weird to and sounded weird to me when a guy turns around, playing his computer, and presses play... The showmanship, too, you lose a lot of it... You have to have a DJ. At least for us, that's an integral thing.

As a group, do you feel like each one of you has had the opportunity to pursue whatever creative inclination you've had, individually?

A: Yeah, for me, I guess as the group's concerned, we've always supported each other's personal careers, as well, and pushed each other. I had my first solo album that Es-Nine produced. Cysko had cuts on it. And then we did the group project. And then I dropped another solo project back in 2011. Cysko did all of the cuts for it. Es Nine did a lot of the production, and mixed and engineered for it.

So we try to help each other out and support each other's careers. Cysko's done some mixtapes. He also deejays for some other groups, like I think this weekend, he's deejaying for the Procussions; they're going back on tour. And we support that. He's also gone on tour with other groups, and he's battled, and he's done cuts for big groups, like Swollen Members, who has a video with like 10 million hits that he did a single for...

[They try to remember the name of the single, but cannot. I later discovered that it was "Night Vision."]

Cysko Rockwel: I'm that tired. Sorry, I had class all night man. I am burned.

It's cool. I get it.

EN: But, yeah, we all support each other. We were just discussing that on the way over here. That's one thing that I've noticed with a lot of groups that go really hard, album after album after album -- there's two ways to look at it: They're very productive, but they also get down to the sound of the group.

As artists, I know I came into it, I have also my own ideas and things. I know he has other things he wants to explore as far as themes that probably won't work within the group, you know? And he probably wants to do some cuts for songs that probably wouldn't work for the group.

Instead of making that a problem, I think the best way to do that is to support each other in that, and one of the biggest groups that really influenced that for us was Dilated [Peoples,] which ended up becoming good friends of ours through touring and doing shows here in Denver.

We just took a page out of there book, and it was like they supported a each other every time they had a project themselves, like individually, and they actually went album after album, and then went to do their solo projects. And it always worked well, and it kept chemistry, and it's cohesive movement, and there's power in numbers. You gotta support each other.

How would you describe your creative process? Like when you guys get together and make a song, do you start with a beat? Do you start with lyrics? Do you have an idea of some samples that you want to scratch in?

A: It's luck of the draw. Sometimes it's a beat. Sometimes it's a theme.

EN: Sometimes we're just hanging out at a practice, and we're just joking about subject matter, and wind up going, "Wow, that's actually a good idea." A day later, we'll be like, "That's actually something to tackle." For a while there, I know, from a production standpoint, I used to think that you have to have a formula.

For a while that may work, but after a while, that also becomes boring. But then you also realize that it doesn't work every time, trying to have a formulaic approach. You kinda just got to approach it spontaneously. He'll come up with a theme sometimes, and I'll be like, "Let's roll with that. That's good." And I'll look for some sample to match it, or he'll be like, "Check this out! This sample."

Are you guys still with Kamikazi Airlines?

A: That was kind of like a one-off album thing. It kind of turned out to be more of a digital distribution thing. Dizzy Dustin did what he could. It was basically a beginner label coming up, and we joined, and we helped, and we went out to L.A. and did a couple of shows and a small tour. He helped us out a lot overseas; we got a lot of overseas fans because of his promotion game and because of Ugly Duckling's name. But as far as another release, we're just going ourselves and trying to build House of Waxx name and really just build our own foundation, as far as Prime Element is concerned and continue on that path.

I guess the ethics of the business and the politics of the business took over. It just seemed like a lot of things that we didn't need, such as management, such as a digital record label that we can do ourselves and kind of get the same answers or the same movement or promotion that we were getting with management and a digital release company.

So is there anything you learned from Dizzy Dustin or just the experience?

EN: Well we're grateful for it. I mean, Dizzy Dustin... That's one of the fathers as far as L.A. hip-hop. So he's part of that movement. Back in the mid- late-'90s. Ugly Duckling's a huge group out in Cali, and they're associated with people that we still deal with like... Dilated, People Under the Stairs and all that, uh, J5.

So we're grateful to have that love and to have that seal of approval from somebody that reputable in the business with an extensive catalog behind them with that group, but we were kind of like, you know, it was a one-off for them and for us, to see what we could do together. It did well. It got a good reception out in California for us, and it definitely sealed the deal for us to have a stepping stone and be more national and international.

A: It pretty much came down to a minimal budget, too, with the label. They didn't really have enough money to fund tours, and that's really what we need to do as upcoming artists still. I mean, we've been doing this for six, seven years, and we've got a reputable name, and we've got stuff we'd like to tour and get promoted overseas, and, you know, we've been on every blog spot you can be on: 2dopeboyz, The Find Magazine, we've been in SPIN magazine.

Unless you're touring constantly and you have a label that's funding you, and you're able to at least live on the road and have gas money, and these promoters are willing to pay you, you basically putting music out for people to listen to, but you're not really making money off of it. So that's kind of really what we felt like, like we're wasting our time, and we're not profiting off of it.

So we might as well start from the ground up again with [Welcome to the Future], and just start pushing our label and start figuring out what it is that we want to do with our careers and not necessarily have our careers in the hands of outsiders who don't necessarily have the budget and stuff, either, to help us out.

EN: And not to say that if they had the budget, I don't know if it would help us. It's an upstart label. They're barely coming up, and they had multiple artists besides us, so the way we felt, they were trying to do as best as they can by us and handle their business on their end.

So is there anything specific that you guys feel like you're going to do differently with your own label than what someone else could have done micro-managing you?

EN: Well we've kind of always handled our business. I mean, we had a pretty good reputation from the get-go. And we kind of formed a label prior to use even being on Kamikazi. House of Waxx Recordings -- that's always been our thing. And we've kind of started pushing that. And it's just about running a tight ship.

For me, you get this thing in the business sometimes, where independence seems to be "Aw man, it's independent. It loses quality. It's not as good. They're not as professional." And the one thing I want is from each project here on our [label] is be that much more professional, that much more chipped-off on the corners, as far as what we do, product-wise, as well as quality.

When you look at the feedback that you guys get, it's almost all positive. As far as I've seen, you definitely have a group of fans that love what you do. And I think, in general, people that love old-school hip-hop love what you guys do. So I'm just wondering what it is that you feel like can take you to the next level. Do you think it's just staying the course and getting better at what you're already doing, or do you think there's something radical that you need to change.

CR: I think it's just even more pursuit or putting different intentions into it. You get so hungry in this shit. Everybody wants to be a rock star, but the bottom line is you love music -- that's why you get into it. I just think putting your eyes on the prize and being more in their face with a quality project, it speaks for itself, and hopefully it'll take you there.

The thing is: Touring is the next step after recording. We did the touring for a while, for a long time, actually, between the recording... We did tons of shows. We're hitting the studios. I feel like now's a good time to buckle down on that.

A: To me, it's just being persistent with music. Not to blame anybody for the last three or four years -- we've done solo projects, we've put singles out -- but we kinda got tied in the business of the label holding our project for eight to ten months, and then waiting on contracts to be signed and other things to be out. And I was holding onto my album for almost a year-and-a-half because we were going to be releasing Set In Stone on Kamikazi.

Like I said, nothing against those guys, but we were ready, and they had their hands tied, and they didn't know what direction they wanted to take with us, what route they wanted to take, and we basically sat on that album for four years. We toured on that album for four years. We dropped it in 2009. They re-released it in 2011. And here we are now in 2013 finally dropping another...

EN: Our sophomore. [Laughs]

A: So it's kind of taken its toll, and it's wore us out a little bit. But we're ready to really dig deep and now, as a new start; without a manager, without the record label, we're going to start pushing more music. We've got this project coming out November 2, and then I'm working on another project with AG Flux from Black Mask that we're dropping December 18, [How Cliché], and then I have a solo project I'm dropping January 1. Es Nine has an instrumental project that he's dropping January 1, as well. Cysko's been working on his battle routines, and, like I said.

EN: He's doing some other cuts for other groups here in town, too.

A: So we're just gonna be in the studio from now on, and constantly getting our promotion game up, and trying to really focus on hitting the online blogs.

CR: You gotta get something impressive, and there's a chance it can go viral.

EN: For me, it boils down to being persistent to what you feel is right and what you're passionate about. I don't care what is "relevant." I mean, that's a big term that I've been discussing with [A.V.I.U.S.] for quite a bit, and it happens so now because... we're the first generation to grow old with [hip-hop], so we're getting to age now where you got older rappers... For us, it was a young man's sport. It was brand new. There was no older hip-hop heads, really. It was a young man's sport.

Now, it's like, "Oh, snap. Jay-Z's forty-something. Is he supposed to stop making music, hip-hop?" So you get this concept of what is relevant, what is good music. Before it was like: if you're making hip-hop, you're breaking ground. Now they're like, "How do we break new ground with hip-hop?" Nobody knows how to redefine it. [Artists] are saying, "Let's be relevant," but half the people trying to be relevant are dressed like they're in the '90s making music that sounds like they're out of the '80s.

For me, quality is sticking to your guns and what feels right to you and progressing and having a sense of evolution within your music, within what you do already, and what fans like you [for.] I think the biggest mistake that some of my favorite artists made was try to be relevant. At that point, you're not being a leader, you're following the lead. You're trying to fit in with what people may think is cool or not. Just do what you do, and if it's quality and good shit, people will dig it. The proof is in the pudding. If not, come back to the drawing board with the next album.

CR: Have you ever seen that win? That scenario go good for anybody? To change your style to try to fit in?

EN: Never.

CR: All of a sudden, they're poppy. I've never seen that work for anyone.

EN: It might work.

CR: Not in this genre.

EN: Typically it doesn't. You get a lot of backlash for that, especially when you have a fanbase. Like I said, I'm appreciative that we have so many good reviews. I've looked back on it like, "Man, we're blessed because we've had a lot of great reviews." I've seen some of the reviews for some of my favorite groups, and for some of them it's like, "Man, you're first album sucked." [Laughter] "Or your second one was horrible, but your first one was great." We've dropped multiple projects after our first one, and it's been positive and positive, and I'm grateful for it.

And that's reaffirms what I believe: that if you stick to your passion and quality and you also put some vulnerability in your music, and you let people in, people can relate to that. The best way that I think what my group has is that people dig our music, but they also like us as people. Not only like, "Oh, I like your music, but you're an asshole," but, "I like your music, and I want to buy you a drink, and can we hang out?" And you're like, "Possibly, yeah, let's hang out. You know? Let's chill. Whatever."

I think that's what fans look for now; they want personability and vulnerability. They don't want an artist who's gonna go, "Look, there's a line right there. I'm an artist, and you're just a regular Joe Schmo, so don't cross that line." People don't want that, because now people can download your music and hate you. They may say, "I like your music, but you suck as a person, so I'm not going to support you."

It's funny you say that because it seems like rappers, especially, are, of any music genre, still deathly afraid to be vulnerable.

EN: Yeah, it's coming down little by little, but I agree.

CR: It's always been a stick your chest out kind of culture.

EN: Oh, yeah, totally. It's a like a bird chest kind of culture. It's like...

CR: I'm the best. I'm the best.

EN: Who's the toughest? Blah, blah, blah. But we've been doing that since the '80s. See, I think that's played out, since the '80s. Look at Macklemore -- he's a perfect example of being vulnerable. Look at the subject matter he's talking about, and his charting independently.

That's a perfect example of what I'd like to follow. His music may not necessarily be my taste, but I respect his take and his direction that he went as far as sticking to what he felt was right for his music, his sound, and didn't give a fuck about what anybody thought. Now look at him.

So what sort of evolutions do you feel you have made with Welcome to the Future?

EN: Shit, like everything we just touched on. My skill as far as production and engineering -- I mean, I feel that I've gotten better and better. You know, I'm at one of the best points of my life for my engineering and how I want things to sound, and it's only getting better. Same thing with [Cysko's] cuts. He's insane on the scratches.

CR: I've finally been practicing.


EN: That just goes to tell you: He's amazing on the cuts.

You were in the DMC Championships. Talk about how that kind of spinning and battling is... Talk about both how it's different from what you have to do in a music group, and how it has helped you be prepared for making music with a rapper and a producer.

CR: I've always been into hip-hop big time. My favorite groups always had a scratching DJ, so I studied that, you know, Jazzy Jeff and Fresh Prince... I can't believe somebody's making that sound with the record. When I ended up getting into it, it really took a hold of me at first, and then it took off. And then you get stuck in a place where you're battling -- battle routines; it's really hard to create all that. Technology moves so fast that everything now is digital. The game changed a lot.

Man, I traveled to L.A. by myself, thinking I was good and entering a battle up there and getting spanked by some of the top DJs in the nation at the time, and that kind of stuff made me prepared for, you know, being on stage for sure because I've been booed. It happens, you know? But then it made me better. It just made me persistent, I guess, battling. I've lost way more than I've won, but I've actually won some pretty cool titles. I've been to cool places and done some fun stuff.

As far as working with the group, though, that's always something I've wanted to do. Dealing with scratches [because I've always liked] DJ Premier, Evil Dee, all these guys back in the '90s scratching all over tracks. But the scratch cuts were always my favorite thing to listen to. They kind of fit right in, and I always wanted to build on that, you know?

Did you ever consider switching to digital...

CR: Well I do use digital, but... You can play music out of any medium, you know? But the cool thing is the scratching, so if I did go digital, push button as well as turntables, I'm going to have everything up there. I always have to have turntables because that's essential, that, to me, is one of the original, purely electronic instruments.

EN: I think there's a uniqueness to it anyway. That's what makes it hip-hop... You're never going to get rid of the turntable. You're never going to get rid of the sampling. People may try, but I don't know... That's like saying, "I'm going to do some rock music without a guitar." Alright. I'm sure you could try. I'm sure you could come up with something, but it would be really weird.

CR: You could have, like, Super Flea on there.


A: I don't know if you've noticed, but Cysko doesn't really talk much, either


See, I couldn't tell if it was because you were tired or...

CR: It's like a mesh of both.

A: Him cutting -- that's his way of talking. We kind of discuss that, like, Es Nine's talking is through his beats. I'm the only MC in the group, so I talk with my words, and Cysko talks with his hands.

CR: I'll act a fool on the turntables.

Tell me a little about your show that's coming up on [November 1.]

A: It's at the Solution. DJ Low Key allowed us to have the night there. He's been really cool alowing these guys to deejay at his nights, and he has a good following and whatnot. Es Nine set up the show. Actually I'll let him talk about it because he set it up. He knows more about it than I do.

EN: So, essentially, Low Key has been a great friend of us through the scene. We know him from [when] me and Cysko used to deejay at, and Lazy Eyez is part of it as well. [Solution] is a long established hip-hop night that's been here in Denver. He's well associated with people like Exile... He's even deejayed for Lupe Fiasco and stuff like that.

My whole thing is I want to associate my group with something that's big. That's something that our sound and our music is deserving of, so it's almost a no-brainer. A, we're cool with them; they're friends. I love what they do. So what better way to showcase our music than that night. And essentially it's gonna be, early in the night, it's a listening party; we're going to be playing the album in its entirety. And then the artist who did our cover is going to be doing live art that's inspired by the music and stuff like that. Once we do a little bit of listening, myself and Cysko are going to deejay the night and play some music.

So you had Delton Demarest do the cover... Why did you pick him?

EN: A, he's a graf writer. Me and [Cysko] started doing graffiti. [A.V.I.U.S.] has dabbled in it... [Demarest] understands what we're doing as far as hip-hop, and top of that, he's just an amazing artist. If you go to his website, it'll blow your mind. He did our first album, as well. He did [A.V.I.U.S.'s] sophomore album.

A: And on top of that, he did an album cover for Atmosphere. Do you know what album that was, with the clown face?

CR: Sad Clown Bad Dub

A: So he's done some personal artwork for Slug from Atmosphere, stuff like that, so he has a really big name as far as the hip-hop community is concerned.

EN: And then, on top of that, he's just a really cool dude... Our biggest thing is we try to keep it family in this. And the fact that we've got talent within somebody who's that close to us, why not, you know?

You guys have a ton of connections -- like you said, the California groups like Dilated Peoples. You have a lot of their features on your albums. Have you guys ever featured on any of their stuff?

EN: We're waiting for that one.

A: Well, [Es Nine was] on Sweatshop Union's album. [Cysko was] on Swollen's album.

EN: That's true. From Dilated, we haven't yet...

CR: That's a hard egg to crack.

I'm sure it is.

A: They have such tight-knit DJs and producers that just sit in their back yard. They're their best friends, you know?

EN: But the fact that they reached out to us and wanted to be associated with us -- the biggest thing that Rakaa [Iriscience] told us was, "I'm not in the business of doing favors. I don't do favors. I don't reach out to people to do music just to be nice. I dig what you guys are doing. You handle your business cool. You guys treat us right. Let me know what I can do to be a part of it."

It went down like that for the whole crew and same thing with People Under the Stairs; we open up for them on a regular basis. They dug what we did. Ever since then, every time that they come out, they call us, and we hang out. I'm happy because of that because we built it on a good reputation and good music.

A: For me, one of my personal accolades that I really am proud of is I'm sitting with [Es Nine], who's worked with the greats: KRS, Dilated, Killah Preist. And Cysko has battled worldwide and hung out with some of the best turntablists in the world and, you know, gets respect.

For me, I've always wanted to be a part of something, and I've always kind of doubted myself because I've always had a lot of people who've doubted what I do as an MC. And I'm not a really proud person. I'm not a person who will come in and brag about being an MC or brag about being a rapper, whatever.

When I got asked to be on Shuko from Germany -- he's a multi-platinum producer -- he contacted me out of nowhere and asked me to be a part of his project in Germany. And I was on it with Jedi Mind Tricks and Immortal Technique and Evidence, and, you know, I've gotten a relationship with him now.

He actually has a song produced on this new album, and he has a couple other tracks produced that will be released in the future, but to be accepted by somebody who has produced for Nas and even Lil Wayne now... He contacted me from a country across the world... I really find that an honor and a blessing.

EN: I'm proud of him, and I'm proud of my group, period, because we've got that of the strains of just good music, you know? It's never been anything other than that. It lets me know that we're in the right direction.

Is there anything else you want people to know?

EN: Make sure to go to our website, PrimeElement.net. From there, you go to our Facebook page. Just keep up with what we're doing. We've got a lot of big things. I'm not going to stop and neither are these guys... I know we share the same belief that we're not going to stop until we shatter the whole concept of what hip-hop is on a mainstream level. And we're not going to stop until we have Grammys and plaques on our wall. And we're going to do that with quality music -- no gimmicks, no bullshit. We're going to do it on our terms.

Let me ask you really quick about that. When you say, "Shatter the concept of what hip-hop is," what are you hoping to change about how hip-hop is conceived.

EN: Well, I'll elaborate even more because I don't want to generalize what hip-hop is, and there's multiple levels to it: what it is on the commercial level and what it is, period, because people generally associate hip-hop with people who are not educated and are very ignorant and have no grammar and have no knowledge of actual music. That's baloney. I went to school for audio engineering. [Cysko] knows how to play instruments, actually. So does [A.V.I.U.S.;] he was a singer at one point in a choir. We're all actual musicians, and we have a knowledge of it.

And then another way we want to shatter it on a mainstream level is typically the way people associate it here in America is... you're making music that's really dumb. The beats are very monotonous and annoying. Your subject matter is very misogynistic and macho, braggadocios... [Cysko] has kids. [A.V.I.U.S.] has kids. I don't make that kind of music, but hip-hop should never be confined to that, and successful hip-hop should never be confined to that either. It should be celebrated to be positive and do quality music that everybody can get, not just hip-hop heads. We're talking about everybody.

A: To me, I think America, as a whole, as far as the way the music industry is set up, is set for failure. I mean, you go overseas and you've got old-school hip-hop on the same radio as new-school hip-hop. They don't translate things with commercial hip-hop or underground hip-hop; it's just music. Music is music, regardless. Here in America, they like to generalize and they like to pigeonhole things.

If you're not making beats like Lil Wayne, then you're not played on the radio. If you're doing old-school stuff, then you're old, or whatever. But it's so generalized here, so pigeonholed. I'd like to see it be like the U.K. where you get played on the radio if it's good music, regardless of the genre is, regardless of what anything is.

I mean, you don't see too many hip-hop festivals that are successful besides if it's a whole festival of hip-hop... You go overseas, and they have festivals, and it's good music, and it doesn't matter; it could be pop rock, it could be rock, hip-hop. And the fans and the people just appreciate good music. We want to turn the tides on that and just have people appreciate good music.

Why do you think that is? That hip-hop's been so sequestered from the rest of music? Do you think there's a reason for that?

EN: I think it has to do with the fact that it's brand new still... compared to other forms of music, but I think it's been generalized like that more here in America because mainstream America and big corporations saw a cash cow in hip-hop once it really started generating money, and it became such a big sensation. So, being that labels want to be smart and have failproof kind of things, what better way to do that than, you know, drugs, sex and violence sells? Boom.

CR: They kind of formatted it... when it started selling. It became a formula that you had to follow to make a hit... It's kind of like it's made by the person that's not even rapping.

EN: Well it became a thing where big corporations dictate what hip-hop is, and hip-hop came from the opposite; it came from a place where you break the mold, not confined by anything. We sample anything and everything. There's no one way to determine hip-hop. We have a common ground that we're like, "Yeah, that's hip-hop," but now it's kind of the opposite.

The industry kind of dictates what it is, what hip-hop is, and they feed that to kids, which is why you have the situation now where kids are like not educated at all about hip-hop culture. They're just educated about how rap is presented on TV and online, and if it has enough hits, then it must be popular, and it must be good... You've got pioneers that don't get love anymore because of that. And obviously big corporations thrive from that here in America because now they've got a perfect gift wrap of how I can always have a platinum artist.

CR: The look, the age, the demographic. They've got it formulated. It's very weird. Even with women...

A: The sex appeal. The look.

CR: The vulgarity of a woman... cussing like dudes.

A: What we noticed, too, is a lot of our sales that we do have in downloads that pay for the music and merch is always from overseas. And all of our stuff that's bootlegged and downloaded for free is all in the U.S.

That is interesting.

A: That's very interesting. And we sold hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of copies overseas, and I've had people send us $40 because they had to pay shipping for a CD -- $40 for a CD -- and people in the U.S. get pissed because they have to pay $2 for a download.

So you think there's maybe a lack of respect for music in the United States?

A: I think it is. I think the way the business is set up is people are always looking for the next best thing. You don't have albums that last decades anymore; it's like weeks at a time, like, "Oh, this song's hot."

CR: Who listens to albums?

A: Yeah, that's the thing: Nobody listens to albums anymore. Anyone under twenty, ask them if they listened to the full record...

EN: Well, anyone under twenty, ask them what was the first hip-hop record, period.

A: They say LL Cool J or something.

EN: No, not even that.

CR: It'd be like Eminem.

Eminem came out right around my age, and I'm 24.

EN: But here's my thing with that; I think all that's created this weird, spun-off place in hip-hop because heads like us and people who come from our school are like, "How do you get handed something that golden?" And I'm not blaming this generation because I was young, but I like to think that it's supposed to get better...

The music got dumbed down when it was actually getting better and more complex and creative, and we just kind of handed it off, and corporations took it and then, "Let's make it as dumb as we possibly can, and get everybody on board, and make a ton of money while we're at it," and that's what happened.

So you must be a fan of Kendrick, right?

EN: I dig what Kendrick does. He comes from the school that actually raps, and he knows what's up. There's people in the business that know what's up, you know? I dig some of the kids, but I kind of miss the music that was timeless. I don't think anybody after... 2005 or 2006, nobody's really made timeless music. All the timeless music is from the '90s. I dunno. That's my take on it.

A: I kind of feel like the feel of hip-hop, though, is kind of coming back.

I think so, too.

A: You have the Kendrick Lamars. You have the Slaughterhouses. You have the J Coles. You have the... who else? Some of these other artists that really do define actual music notoriety and that actually put feelings and emotions in their songs, and the whole digital age and the whole vocoder shit's going out the window. We're starting to get some more soulful beats again. And you still get some of that weird shit, all that trap music. I'm not a hater of trap music. I'm not a fan of it, but...

EN: That's for the kids.

A: Yeah, to us, that's for the kids. If you want to go to a concert and hear a bunch of drum and bass and get drugged out, more power to you. But me? I'm a fan of music. I like to hear soulful music with substance that means something that I can relate to, and that's the music I like to create.

EN: And I'm not knocking the new generation; I just think we're at a place now where there's hip-hop for grownups [laughs], and there's hip-hop for kids. And that's the truth. It's just like for our parents. They grew up with rock, and after a while you're like, "There's classic rock."

A: Maybe we're just old-school. [Laughs]

A lot of people thought Nas was hip-hop for kids when he came out. The whole gangster rap movement. They thought, "What the hell are the kids doing?"

EN: Exactly.

A: Cysko likes everything.

CR: I do. But I pick and choose, though. I'm very, very picky.

EN: He's super picky... I'm a little more of a...


EN: Well, that's the thing. I dont' want to be labeled a purist because I'm all about evolution, but I just think... as an artist, you should aspire to have a long career, longevity, quality of music. And you should dictate what you consider good as far as you as artists and what your fans perceive, not anybody else.

I don't believe in the concept of relevance. Relevance is a concept that's all in your mind. I'd rather be timeless, not relevant. That's exactly it: relevant. You're, at the moment, good, but tomorrow, you may not be... I want to make music that, thirty years down the road, is going to be played and sound just as good and elicit the same kind of emotion out of people.

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