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June 6, 2012

88-Keys: Hip Hop In The Key Of Life [Interview]



Hip-hop is an ever-evolving genre that is always in search of the new and hot thing, especially when it comes to sound. Longevity in hip hop has only been achieved by a select few producers. But with production featured on albums ranging from the classic Mos Def and Talib Kweli‘s Blackstar to last summer’s monumental Watch The Throne, 88-Keys has proven that he is among hip hop truly great producers. In 2008 the New York native made his emcee debut with Death Of Adam. Now, after founding Locksmith Music, 88 is adding label executive to his list of contributions to the culture. I caught up with 88 and discussed, among other things, the post Watch The Thone reaction to his sound, his thoughts on the proposed SOPA bill and his relationship with the late great J. Dilla.

The Well Versed: Talk a little bit about the idea behind Locksmith Music; the name and what you hope to accomplish musically.

88-Keys: The name Locksmith Music was the name of my former production company which I incorporated back in 1997. The first placement for that company was my work (‘Thieves In The Night”) on Blackstar’s album. It wasn’t until recently that I decided to start my own label and dissolved that incorporation and was able to retain that name and turn it into an LLC. I started the able to both help artists that I found who were dope and also to start building a brand for myself.

TWV: I understand that you met the artists that you signed through Twitter and SoundCloud submissions.

88-Keys: Well, I had an idea for my next album to be a compilation of unsigned artists. Initially the idea was to have 13 different acts on an album entirely produced by myself. So I put out a casting call…and specifically asked people not to send their own music…just an email inquiry.

TWV: Basically just saying they’re interested…

88 Keys: Exactly. A simple “How can I be down” or “I rap, what do I do know” is all I was looking for. Hundreds of people couldn’t follow simple instructions but that’s a whole other subject (laughs). That would be an interview about Generation X. A lot of rappers weren’t nearly as great as they claimed to be and there were just a handful that I rounded down to 13 acts…and eventually five. The five that I kept were the ones I started building a rapport with. Hearing them sharpen their skills and hit me with joints every week, I started thinking about what I would do next. It’s interesting because the time I wasn’t even really fucking with Hip-Hop. I wasn’t tuning in to the blogs to hear a bunch of wack rappers getting their songs posted every three or four days and eventually develop followings because they’re being posted four or five times a week. Then the audience gets gassed like these cats are dope when, in my opinion, they’re far from dope. They’re just okay rappers who got exposure. So I wasn’t buying into that. To get my hip hop fix I would just resort to playing A Tribe Called Quest, the original Slum Village. But as I’m hearing these cats (Locksmith artists) music, they’re getting me excited again. So there are really dope artists out there, they’re just not making it to the blogs for whatever reason. One night we had a magical session where recorded eight songs in one night and they all came out dope. That’s when it reaffirmed for me that I needed to start my own label and sign these dudes.

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