Editorial, interview, Interviews, Main, rileysbest

A Conversation With Rock (Of Heltah Skeltah)

When talking about group dynamics, people like to point towards Wu-Tang Clan as the quintessential example of a hip-hop dynasty;…

When talking about group dynamics, people like to point towards Wu-Tang Clan as the quintessential example of a hip-hop dynasty; however, that’s not entirely accurate. It’s impossible to have such a conversation and negate the influence of the Boot Camp Click. They were a super-group composed of inner groups: Black Moon, OGC, Smiff-N-Wessun, and one of my fave groups, Heltah Skeltah.

Heltah Skeltah, a duo composed of Rock and Ruck (Sean Price), came into notoriety when they dropped their classic debut Nocturnal. It contained a few of my fav tracks of the era, namely “Therapy” and “Operation Lockdown.” As a group, they released three albums total – the aforementioned, Magnum Force and D.I.R.T ( Da Incredible Rap Team) – amidst a sea of collaborations, turmoil, and a brief split.

A few weeks ago, the hip-hop world was rocked by the unexpected death of Sean Price. Word spread quickly, and outpouring of grief, and dazed memorial set timelines on fire. His influence, and genuine respect among his peers – and fans alike – was apparent.

I decided to reach out to Sean’s longtime partner in Rhyme to discuss his music, Heltah Skeltah, and the legacy Sean P leaves behind. 

Peep the interview below.

How did you get hip-hop?

Well, Beatboxing, and Roxanne Roxanne. Honestly, in its earlier days, when it was still a relatively small community, I was younger and wasn’t that into it; but, when I heard Roxanne Roxanne, that’s when I started writing. I wrote my first rap during that period.

How did you get into the game?

Well, I got lucky. I had friends that did a lot of the hard work – I just got to have fun. I just had to rap. Steele from Smiff N’ Wessun, he was the hardest worker. He used to hang out and do all types of fuckery with us on the street, and also went to school and worked a job to pay for studio time. So really, I got lucky… I came in the game on the strength of my mans and them.

[In hindsight, I wish I’d prodded a little more about his relationship with Tek and Steele. They were instrumental figures in the careers of not just Sean Price and Rock, but also the members of OGC. They all got their first taste of the industry on the back of their classic album “Dah Shinin”]

How had you initially met Sean Price?

I don’t know; our mothers knew each other. My earliest memory of him was at his 11th birthday party. It was his surprise birthday party, and he already had a job at that point.

At what stage did you decide to come together as a duo – at what stage did you decide to become Heltah Skeltah?

We agreed to that over the phone when I got locked up in 1992. But, I had already known for a while that was what I wanted to do. Once I heard son get busy, and I saw his abilities and all that [sic], I knew I wanted him to be my partner. It was just a matter of playing my cards right, feeling out the situation and making it happen.

What was the process of recording Nocturnal?

There were a lot of late nights. A lot of dudes, a lot of cigars, a lot of vegetables, and a lot of jokes. There were some women around – but not too many. There were also a lot of snacks around. Mad cookies and cakes, and a lot of greenery.

You guys appeared to break up after your second album, Magnum Force. What was the reason? Was there any animosity?

Nah, We didn’t break up. I just left Duck Down. We were just on two different pages at that particular point in time. Son was trying to do one thing, and I was attempting to do another; although, Heltah Skeltah was still intact. I was on his [Sean Price] first solo album. For all the time that I wasn’t with Duck Down and cats was saying that we had supposedly broken up… Yeah, I split with Duck Down, but I didn’t split with the Boot Camp. Duck Down just happens to be Dru Ha and Buckshot’s company, so it’s tricky. But it wasn’t that serious on a Heltah Skeltah level.

What made you guys get back together to do the D.I.R.T album?

We felt like it was time. It wasn’t that complicated. Everything was rapid-fire, and back to back. Ruck [Sean Price] dropped Monkey Bars; Smiff N Wessun dropped Reloaded, and Buckshot and 9th Wonder dropped Chemistry. Then we were out touring the Last Stand [a 2007 group album by Boot Camp Click]. It was in full swing. So while people were like “oh shit, Rock is back?” We were already albums deep. We had bullets in the chamber. We also recorded Casualties of War [another Boot Camp album released the same year] during that period. So at that point, all of the disagreements I’d had with Duck Down had been hashed out, and we were all in. By the time we did D.I.R.T, it was just a matter of asking “are you guys ready?”

What are you working on now?

I’m working on a bunch of shit. My solo album, for one. I’ve been working on it for a while now, but you know… Situations change, the sounds change, my ears change, and the message I may be trying to give the people may change. The album is in the process. Life happens though, and right now. I just lost the Yin to my Yang … My brother just died. So, there are changes that need to happen on my album now.

What are some of your fondest memories of Sean Price?

Just knowing him, just having the privilege to be chosen to be that nigga’s partner [sic] – that’s bigger than anything else. He was a one of a kind, unique soul. You don’t just find an energy like his anywhere. As unique as we all are as human beings, I mean, you may find somebody else at some point that reminds you of me, but you won’t find anyone that reminds you of him. He was one of one – and he chose me. I mean, I tricked him into accepting me, but he chose me!

What would you want the world to know about Sean Price?

Everything I just said. When I say he was special, I mean that. I want them to listen to his catalog – and his jokes, his vulgarities and all his slap the shit out you isms, and enjoy all of it. He epitomized the term not giving a fuck – and being yourself in the truest form. Always telling the truth is a part of being yourself, but with him, it was a bit more complicated. If he felt like lying to you, he would. He didn’t give a fuck about your rules. He would say what I was thinking. Shit that you were scared to say, he’d say – no problem.

On top of all that, he was a great father and a wonderful husband. He was proud to be married. He wasn’t one of these cats out here who’s married acting like they aren’t married – running around in videos and misleading the public. I mean, I get the look, but I also understand the subliminal messages we send to people through our music – and videos. We’re all programmed by what we see. I mean, there’s a nigga named Rambo in every hood [sic] … Where did we get that from? That’s the kind of stuff that came from our programming, things that were always pushed into our faces. Our whole lives. A vast majority of the punchlines that most rappers have were influenced by movies and TV.

We’re shaped by what we see.

The right wingers always want to come down on rappers for the messages we share, and the impact we have on the youth. I said it on wax: “We influence the kids – but who influences the rappers?” Biggie Smalls called himself Frank White. Where’d he get that from? They don’t want to talk about that.

When Biggie Small died, how old was he?

26, I believe. I remember being young and thinking he was a grown man… But in hindsight, he was young!

That’s exactly where I was going with this… I mean when you look back on it what, 15 years later, and you realize he was just 25–26… He was a fucking kid! All the hardest rappers out there were just kids. We were all young minds, still susceptible to peer pressure, and influence. If you’re in the NBA, those dudes protect your ass. Even if you’re in your 30’s, you still a system around designed to keep you straight. But not for us. We had to learn on our own. I have been around the world, and I learned: fuck all this imagery. That dude Sean Price took his wife everywhere – if he could take her, he took her. He rapped about her on half of his songs, and he’s got like 1000 songs. That type of thing speaks volumes. Very few of us out here are being our authentic selves.

And as well, the outpour of love and support he received worldwide speaks volumes to the impact he had on people’s lives.

Word. He was a magnetic dude. A fucking comedian. He’s legitimately one of the funniest people you’d ever meet – and he’d smack the shit out you. I just love that combination.

That’s an excellent combination.

That’s what I want the world to know about him… But really, the world probably already knows that. All they got to do is listen to one of his records. You’ll probably hear him mention his wife; you’ll probably hear him shout out his daughter; actually, you for sure will. He always mentions himself, and he named his daughter Shaun Price – so he legitimately says her name in every song. So her name will be immortalized. He did that for her, or maybe for him, but that’s that, he mentions her name in every song. You’ll hear everything I just said.

So in a sense, I could’ve just said, “play one of his records.” Because it’s all him – through and through. Even when he’s saying some weird shit that you know couldn’t have happened in real life, it’s still him.


Riley here — father, artist, videographer, professional writer and SERIOUS hip-hop head. I'm a member of the Universal Zulu Nation, and I think everything is better on vinyl. Add me on Twitter! @specialdesigns
#IndieSpotlight, Main

#IndieSpotlight: MusicbyKO “Life In Element” Is The Soundtrack For Pre-Fall Blues

A new LP floated across my desk by an Oakland, California, singer/rapper named MusicbyKO. A warm blend of jazzy 90s…

A new LP floated across my desk by an Oakland, California, singer/rapper named MusicbyKO. A warm blend of jazzy 90s Hip Hop and a cadence reminiscent of acts like Isaiah Rashad. Having shared stages with names like J.I.D. and Earthgang, he appears focused and composed — as evidenced by Life In Element, his new LP.


 
With a very consistent sound, KO slowly unravels a series of tracks that let you into his world just enough — without blatant TMI, or inducing a “yeah right” effect. What listeners get are the tales of a low-level drug dealer (this is both referenced and downplayed at different points), who is taking a chance on a dream, as he slowly but surely uncovers that everything the glimmers isn’t gold, and just because someone calls you brother, it doesn’t mean they have your back — or at the very least even your best interests at heart.

It’s an almost paranoid sense that snakes are roaming the grass that is revisited numerous times throughout the project, like on the song “La La Land,” “Empathy,” and “Let Me Talk With Ya/While I’m Here,” where he notes “I Know niggas right now that want to see me fall.”

He also paints a picture of himself as someone who overextends himself — such as on “Too Much Falls Short,” where he preaches that failing to leave your comfort zone is a fail before even leaving the running block.

That’s just the first few layers of this project; touching on socio-economic issues facing the black community nationwide, and even relationships (see the super dope “Spirit Rise”), he creates a lot of depth. Though the vibe is consistent — almost bordering on redundant — it manages to remain engaging. Also, that instrumental on “A Devil’s Advocate Corner” is a bucket of flame emojis doused in gasoline.

 
Like a bride on her wedding day, Life In Element is something old and something new; all that Hip Hop is dead shit goes out teh window when you hear younger cats with cohesive projects like this. With enough amazing quotables to create a success Instagram daily quote account (“I couldn’t heal in eth place I got sicker”) and an admirable ear for production, MusicbyKO NEEDS to be on your radar. It’s just good for the soul.

Early.

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interview, Interviews

#Interview: RoQy TyRaiD in ‘PLYNwcha’

RoQy TyRaiD drops a brand-new single “PLYNwcha” produced by NYC’s Motif Alumni with a psychedelic backbeat over hypnotic chants that…

RoQy TyRaiD drops a brand-new single “PLYNwcha” produced by NYC’s Motif Alumni with a psychedelic backbeat over hypnotic chants that groove. With an edgy prose, RoQy TyRaiD takes Hip Hop to the next level and Above Average Hip Hop wanted to know more. What can be said about his subject matter personifies the culture that raised him. Coming up in the game can be a struggle, but for RoQy, it’s all about keeping it real. “I don’t have to play by the rules. I’m going to do what I want, and I’m going to find my success regardless,” says RoQyTyRaiD.   

 

I get placed on this green planet for a finite amount of time and I don’t feel like I’m surrendering any of that to people who are championing consistencies and stratification and all of that nonsense. – RoQy TyRaiD

However, there are different modes of success, and whether it equates to monetizing your product or artistically expressing and further developing your brand, the rapper RoQy TyRaiD stays true to his values in the culture that brought him his new single “PLYNwcha.”

Tell me about RoQy TyRaiD. Who are you and where are you from?   

I reside in Phoenix, Arizona. I’m originally from southern California, born and raised. I’m just here to advance my artistic pursuits and find myself deeper in the culture that inspired me and gave me a live soundtrack. I feel that artists, at the end of the day, are just glorified fans. I’m finding my way further in the culture that inspired me, and this is why I’m here.

Some would describe you as a socially conscious rapper. How would you describe your subject matter?

I mean, people have classified me like that. I’m just more aware to life. I mean, it happens to fall in it in terms of just discerning your surroundings. Unfortunately, and fortunately as opposed to politics and things related, social climate plays a role. So, I could say, you know, they’re right. I’m just a normal dude.  I mean sometimes the content touches on political topics.

What is your most recent single?

It’s called “PLYNwcha.” It’s me flexing my capabilities lyrically, providing some hype music. I’m breaking away from the direction that I was sent down artistically and just getting back to making music that makes you want to throw a merch table across the venue. I detail instances where I was just being delivered pipe dreams just waiting for this nonexistent idea of success or mythical ideas and just really being fed up with it. I guess I deliver it in a more aggressive energy forward manner. But what it is — I have no time.

I’m not like a 21-year-old dude who can play trial and error. I get placed on this green planet for a finite amount of time and I don’t feel like I’m surrendering any of that to people who are championing consistencies and stratification and all of that nonsense. We’re with the advent of social media, Internet, and advancing technology. I don’t have to play by your rules. I’m going to do what I want and I’m going to find my success regardless. I guess it’s realizing that feeling and you know, taking the gloves off.

It sounds like you have a different set of values on what constitutes success. Would you say that is accurate?

Absolutely, my role is looked at differently from the next man or woman. Even describing the adversities and the games and you know, standards you have to abide by. For example, I have two sold-out dates in the UK, another one lined up press and individuals waiting to get the piece of this new music and you know, I think that reflects taking your destiny by your own hands as opposed to abiding by what you’re told to do.

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Video Spotlight: Mean Joe Scheme & Optiks

In this video spotlight, Joe and Optiks discuss the new project, the state of east coast hip-hop, and what to expect from BEAMS. Be sure to check out both singles below, and follow @meanjoescheme and @thisisoptiks on your socials.

NYC artists Mean Joe Scheme and Optiks are putting the finishing touches on BEAMS, their new collaborative project. If “Cannonball” and “Hands Down” are any indication, we’re in for a viscous slice of hybrid hip-hop- a fusion of beats, rhymes, and anxious 2018 energy.

In this video spotlight, Joe and Optiks discuss the new project, the state of east coast hip-hop, and what to expect from BEAMS. Be sure to check out both singles below, and follow @meanjoescheme and @thisisoptiks on your socials.

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Main, Reviews

Eminem: Kamikaze- A Relapse of Epic Proportion

Poor Eminem. He’s damned if he do and damned if he don’t. His last album, 2017’s pop-heavy Revival, flopped by…

Poor Eminem. He’s damned if he do and damned if he don’t. His last album, 2017’s pop-heavy Revival, flopped by way of social media yet wasn’t a total disaster. It moved units and afforded him headlining spots on the summer festival circuit- but it didn’t give the fans what they needed. Or did it?

This conundrum surrounds Eminem’s career. When he’s on there’s only a handful of rappers alive who can compete with his pen and his fury. But when he bogs down projects with introspection- giving us a break from his hyper-aggro screaming at the mic- it feels like we’ve been cheated. Stans can’t deal with the sappy pop-crossovers, and today’s charts simply do not have space for good old-fashioned rap acrobatics. So what’s an aging top-five-dead-or-alive rapper to do?

Marshall Mathers unleashed Kamikaze as his response to the Twitter army (and critics) who condemned him- an unexpected and venomous (although carefully measured) surprise album packed with more syllables than a semester’s worth of English-as-a-second language classes. As we all secretly hoped for, rappers ain’t safe from Em’s verbal barrage of double and triple time bars on Kamikaze, and if you have time to unpack these 13 tracks you’ll find some genuine heat.

Unfortunately, if you really unpack these ferocious bars you’ll find a grumpy old man rapping for the simple sake of reminding us how technically skilled he truly is. The problem is we’ve known that for ages. Reverting back to early 2000’s Eminem complete with the use of “faggot”- his favorite homophobic slur on the otherwise bulletproof “Fall”- does little to contribute to his relevance in 2018.

There are a few maniac standouts on Kamikaze, songs that young rappers should study for the intricate art of word play and cadence (check “The Ringer”, and “Not Alike” featuring Royce Da 5’9). Yet, those lessons are harder to learn when it’s impossible for the listener to catch their breath. For most of the record, Em is in such rapid-fire mode that you absolutely have to run back verses and entire songs to truly digest his messages. Rap nerds and old heads will revel in the task, but is that what the game needs these days? I’d argue no

Kamikaze is a rare full-on barrage of supernatural MC’ing; but it comes and goes without much meaning when the target becomes Machine Gun Kelly-who tweeted about Eminem’s attractive daughter back in 2012. Is there really a hip-hop fan alive willing to side with MGK on this one? And if you’re looking for the most lukewarm, mediocre diss track (possibly ever recorded) check out MGK’s response, “Rap Devil”, a headscratcher that splits its time attempting to discredit Em while simultaneously praising his longevity and abilities. You either want the smoke or you don’t? Like it or not, the whole thing feels like a charade.

Eminem has always carried a chip on his shoulder. When the critics go low, he goes lower. While Kamikaze is far from a low point in what will be viewed someday as a catalog of studio hits and misses, it’s far from the return to form that it was intended to be. He might not be afraid to take a stand, but it’s become tiring trying to figure out exactly who Eminem is standing against.

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Blank Face: Walking Through The Jungle

I spit gems through the mouth of gods – I'm so real... —Blank Face I consider myself to be tastemaker...

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