Entries in hip hop (7)


59 Vursatyl The Great

The incredible mc known as Vursatyl The Great is back, and once again he has hit the ground running.  His first solo album apart from the superteam Lifesavas called 'Crooked Straights' is making waves all over.  He just released the Jake One remix of 'Bring It To A Halt' which has heads nodding across the globe.  We were lucky enough to have a chat with the man himself.  Check it out:

Fingers on Blast: First of all, what's a typical day in the life of Vursatyl The Great?

Vursatyl: I'm up at 6 AM every morning, in my headphones listening to beats. Often times I am listening to the same beat over and over again, trying to get ideas going.

Where do you think your ideas come from?  What inspires you?

I like to get out and drive. I like to see the city, to see people and just observe life man. I find inspiration through what I see. Like most writers I also get inspiration from life experiences. Going to concerts and shows inspire me as well. I get challenged by seeing excellence. I guess that's why the music I have released as a solo artist feels like music to drive to.

What do you love about living in Portland?

I love living in Portland because everything was so untapped here that I've been able to be myself and find my own voice as a musician and an artist. I love being born and raised here, and being able to watch what we built grow into such a colorful Hip Hop scene.

After traveling the world, I dig that my kids can go to school here and also generally feel safe.

You mentioned before being challenged by excellence.  who have you seen live that would fall into that category?

Man, there are so many great live performers that I've seen. But I'd have to say the greatest live shows belong to Public Enemy, De La Soul, The Roots (in the 90's and early 2000's), Digital Underground

But on a micro level, I can go to underground shows and see an unknown MC who's hungry and on his game and leave feeling inspired to go harder.

If you could make a posse cut with some of your favorites, who would produce it and who would you have rap on it with you?

Wow! Best interview question ever!

J Dilla would produce it. Rakim, Pharoahe Monch, Mykah 9, Kendrick Lamar, Elzhi, Jay Electronica, Black Thought and Me. First names to come mind.

We first came across you as one half of lifesavas and being on tour with the quannum mc's.  can you tell us how that all got started?

The short version: In 1998 Chief Xcel of Blackalicious heard Lifesavas cassette single while shopping at Jump Jump Records here in Portland. I was introduced to him at a show a day or so later.

I met Gab, and Lateef that night as well. Xcel said he loved the tape, so we kept in touch and a year later after understanding that I also sang, he asked me to send more music and some of me singing.

The next day, he sent me a plane ticket to come to Oakland to rehearse with Blackalicious and Latyrx to join them on the 'Quannum Spectrum Tour' in Europe. In 2000 they signed Lifesavas.

To back up a bit, while on that tour I was giving away A new Lifesavas demo. In Rennes, France I had given one to Babu & J-Rocc of the Beat Junkies, and Cut Chemist. Lyrics Born got pissed that I being the "newbie" was giving his friends music that he hadn't heard and didn't want me to giving them anything wack.

So he and Xcel told me to let them hear it before I gave anymore out.

They took it on the tour bus and once they listened, they asked me if I'd like to release it on Quannum. That demo included our first 12"inch single "Head Exercise".

That is actually so awesome.  Are there any plans for more Lifesavas music?

Yes. We've been saying for years but coincidentally we've been hard at work this week on new Lifesavas music. We are sure to be releasing an EP by fall

Amazing!  What inspired the creation of your new solo LP Crooked Straights?  Can you tell us what it was like to make this one?

While Jumbo and Shines had been so busy working on various projects, I continued to record.
I compiled Crooked Straights from many of the songs I've been working on. My focus is on reintroducing myself properly to the world. I wanted to be more deliberate with everything regarding the music and the depiction of me as a person. After years of being put in a box I didn't completely relate to, Crooked Straights was the right introduction to my plan to release my opus. I wanted to put a project out to set the tone for what was to come on a larger level. I'm fortunate that it's being so well received and even serving as a catalyst for my crew to re-embark on our quest to extend our collective legacy. Crooked Straights is the fire starter to the inferno that follows.

Thanks you so much for talking with us. Is there anything else we should know? Shoutouts?

Shout to my partner in crime Lunden who executive produced Crooked Straights and also produced my soon to come single 'High Horse'. Big up to Jumbo, Shines, Sly Da Brown Hornet, Wolveryne & Libretto from my crew the Misfit Massive. Also look out for Imani Vol. From my brothers Blackalicious coming soon! Big up Chief Xcel & Gift Of Gab!

Special thanks Jake One for Killing This Remix!

Buy the single here: geni.us/VursatylNothingBring
Buy the album: geni.us/VursatylCrooked


We had the opportunity to chat with the extra dope, super prolific MC.  He's a Living Legend, he's worked with everyone, and now he's releasing his NINTH album on Tech N9ne's Strange Music label.  We managed to borrow a few minutes of his time to discuss that and a few other things...


You're releasing solo album nine, 'Have A Nice Life' on Tech N9ne's 'Strange Music', how is this different from some of your other albums?  

I feel the production is bigger on this album. And lyrically I am definitely speaking from a wiser more mature place. And the significance of my 9th album coming out on Tech N9ne’s label is trippy.

-If you could have a chat with yourself when you were working on and releasing 'F'Real', what would you say?

If I could go back and speak to myself then. I don’t think I would drop any spoilers. I would just buy a tape from him. And tell myself to keep up the good work. 

-You've collaborated with so many great artists, and made so much great music.  Who have been your favorites to work with?

Everyone I’ve collaborated with has a special place in my heart. They all have helped me grow. They’ve all helped me refine my skill and master my craft. I’m just grateful for the opportunities. I’ve been blessed to cross paths with some really talented individuals.

Will there ever be new material from 3MG?

At this in my point in my career. I am not looking to collaborate as much as - I’m in to developing myself further as a solo artist. But if the right song comes along I wouldn’t be opposed to calling the fellas hop on it.

You're about to embark on a huge North American tour with Tech N9ne - where are your favorite places to play shows?  

Not to sound generic. But I like playing anywhere there are people who are ready to have a good time. 

Do you have any rituals on tour to maintain your sanity?

I don’t’ know if it’s possible to maintain sanity the definition of insanity is said to be doing the same thing and expecting different results. And I wake up every day and do the same set soooo….. As far as rituals white tee and pants and always some vans Sk8 Hi’s the same ones the entire tour and then I give them away at the last show.

-We've heard you're an avid sports fan, who do you need on your fantasy football team this year?

Sen’Derrick Marks

-We were huge fans of 'Walk Like A Man', do you have any other plans to 
branch out and work on film or other art forms? 

I have a film premiering June 16th “Maul Dogs” and there are plans for a short film/video compilation for a few songs on “Have A Nice Life”. Definitely plan on doing more acting in the years to come.

-'And I Love It' is one of our favorite tracks ever, do you think you could ever make a part two?  

I love that you love it. If I find the right beat. It is a definite possibility. There’s so much to love in this world.

What are some of your favorite tracks from your own collection?

The Jerry Maguire Song. First Love. The entire Melrose album. Everything. Mi Corazon. Pussy and Pizza. And some shit you haven’t heard yet. LOL

-How do balance music, touring and everything else with being a husband 
and father?

You have to prioritize and put your energy where it’s needed most at the time. And whatever I do I do in the name of love. 

-Thank you so much for taking the time to chat with us, this is something we never could have imagined doing! So, thank you! 


The Strange Music debut album from MURS, Have A Nice Life, 
is now available in stores and at http://strangemusicinc.net!
Get it here - http://bit.ly/mHANLyt

Available NOW on iTunes - http://apple.co/1yqQR89


53 DJ Trackstar

DJ Trackstar isn't your average dj.  He's released over one hundred mixtapes in his career, lent his skills to seminars and demos for those who could use the help of an all star dj and that's just the beginning.  He's the tour dj for one of the most important rappers ever, and has now joined the number one hip hop group out there today.  We caught up with Trackstar to talk about his journey so far, linking up with Killer Mike, and the adventure he's been on since joining Mike and El-P in Run The Jewels...


Fingers On Blast:  You've done more than a hundred mixtapes in your career.  Some with amazing artists, and some with some creative concepts.  Do you have any stand out favourites?  



My favorite is probably Out of the Darkness: The Best of Organized Noize…ONP's music is so significant in my life, it's one of the tapes I put in the most time and energy on, Big Rube was the PERFECT host, and the timing of how and when it dropped just worked out amazingly--when I started it I was living in Cali, but through various circumstances I didn't end up releasing it until after I moved to Atlanta (which I had zero plans to do when I began work on the mix). 


One Dollar Mix Volume 4 is another favorite, and probably the one I'm proudest of at the end of the day--it's from way back in 2005, before I had met or worked with any national artists. I picked out 50 of my favorite beats from '04, got 50 of my favorite rappers in St Louis to all record exclusive verses for the project over those beats, and blended them together in a continuous mix that kinda serves as a time capsule to an era in STL hip hop. It was definitely the mix that took the most work, and the St Louis scene is so important to me personally and professionally that I'm glad to have hopefully helped document that moment within our culture. 


Fingers on Blast: Where did the name "The Rap Fan" begin?



I'm from Wisconsin…I never imagined I'd be meeting the artists I was obsessed with and spent hours listening to on my headphones, let alone work with them on any level. Even before I became Mike's DJ, let alone this RTJ experience, I used to think about what my 15-year old rap-obessed self would say if I told him about all the amazing artists I'd met and worked with, and kinda developed a pet phrase of sorts: "forget Trackstar the DJ's career, Gabe the Rap Fan has had a hell of a time". 


On the first Mike/El tour in 2012, I wanted to make some merch to supplement my income on the road. Whatever I made had to be something that was true to myself, and I couldn't think of anything truer than my identity as a Rap Fan, so I put it on a shirt and it turned out others could relate. After a couple different tries at creating a logo, my STL compatriot Tech Supreme made the current version and I've been lucky to have the RTJ platform through which RAP FAN has gotten an awesome amount of direct exposure to like-minded individuals.


Fingers on Blast: Were you a track star in school?



I was indeed. I ran distance, from the half-mile to 5K--I wasn't world class but for most of my HS career I was one of the top runners in the city in my events, and after High School I ran a couple marathons.  For what it's worth, at the very least I do think that without a doubt I was the top runner in my area with a daily weed habit. Ha.


Fingers on Blast: Tell us a bit about the Smoking Section and the part it's played in your career?



There's kinda a simple theme in how I end up working with a lot of the folks I've blessed to work with--they are my favorites, and then I try really hard to get down with them lol. Early on in the rap blog game, TSS became my main online destination, so when I started putting my mixtapes online I immediately started sending them to Gotty, asking him to post them. Eventually he started putting them on the site--I can be very persistent lol--and as time went on I slowly became part of the crew, TSS became an official presenter of my projects, and Gotty became one of my most trusted advisers. We put out the first couple of TSS-sponsored artist mixtapes with a couple of my favorite rap pals, Wafeek and Rockwell Knuckles, back in 07-08, and since then everything I've put out has the TSS logo. I'm proud to have been on the team for all these years, and to play a small part in helping TSS continue its run as one of the most respected sites in the online rap world. 


Fingers on Blast: How did you get started with Killer Mike and Run The Jewels?



There's a looong version and a short version…I'll try to lean towards the short version here. 


In early 2007, I read a Killer Mike interview while sitting in my apartment in St Louis (I wish I remember what publication/site, or even whether it was on- or off-line, but I have no clue) and at the end he gave his phone number. I assumed it would be a fan club line of some type, an answering service asking for your email or phone number to keep fans updated with news on Mike, so I called it out of curiousity…and he answered himself. I didn't really have a plan or agenda--I was expecting to just listen to the voicemail message--so I thought quick and proposed he host a "Best of Killer Mike" mixtape mixed by me, after explaining what a fan I was of his and telling him how I was spinning his underground records heavily at clubs in St Louis at the time. He agreed, and eventually we put out Anger & Ambition with TSS. 


After we put out the project, I met Mike in person for the first time at A3C in 2009. I told him I was in ATL for the weekend and was available if there was anything he needed a DJ for while I was there…his reply was to ask if I could rock with him the next night opening up for Rakim. Unbelievable. From there, we did shows anytime we were in the same city, and at SXSW 2011, after doing four shows with him in one day, he declared I was his new tour DJ. The timing was great, as he had just hooked up with El-P, which led to R.A.P. Music and eventually RTJ. 


Fingers on Blast: What has been the wildest moment in the RTJ journey?



There's been so many, but a sentimental favorite was opening up for Wu-Tang Clan in front of 20,000+ in Utah this past July. Wu was basically a religion for me in high school, and I was in Chicago at the last Rage/Wu show before the Clan left the tour during the summer of 97…I got my copy of Wu-Tang Forever signed by all the members that were there. I'd DJed for the GZA when we went on tour with him so it wasn't my first Wu moment but to be around (almost) the whole Clan was something special.


Fingers on Blast:  Run the Jewels did a show in St. Louis in late November at the Ready Room, one that has since become quite famous for Killer Mike's introduction.  Can you tell us a bit about what that was like in a city you once called home?  



Even without the non-verdict coming down that evening, that was a crazy day. Shows in StL are always intense for me anyway, trying to connect with as many friends as possible, and then our bus broke down a couple hours outside STL and we got to the show incredibly late, so we were all already on edge. Thinking about and feeling the ramifications of that jury's decision while watching the news on the bus was almost too much to handle period, let alone after the day we'd had, but we hit that stage and Mike and El just did what they best and passionately expressed what they were feeling. They are both brilliant dudes with big hearts, and that came across in what they said, and I was humbled to be a part of that moment 


Fingers on Blast: You've done a lot of demos and workshops on djing in a variety of settings.  Can you tell us a bit about how you got started in that sort of work?



I read a couple books by William Upski Wimsatt ("Bomb the Suburbs" and later, "No More Prisons") which got me thinking about ways to put my intense obsession with hip hop to good use. In Bomb the Suburbs, Upski spoke with Wendy Day, who started the Rap Coalition in order to help educate artists on how to get the most out of their careers. I was really inspired by Wendy's story, and I decided to try to mentor teenagers who wanted to get involved in hip hop about the realities of the business, as well as give them perspective on the history of hip hop. I started a non-profit organization in St Louis that initially was meant to pair local MCs with youth and developing one-to-one mentoring relationships, but eventually turned into a weekly meeting amongst a tightknit group of dedicated artists and youth who wanted to rap, produce and DJ. 


That went on for quite a few years, until I moved to California, where I connected with SessionsLA, which was and is an amazing organization that took what I was doing to another level. I was proud to be a small part of their work and meet some incredible young people through Sessions--one of my favorite touring moments has been when I brought Killer Mike to speak to them. Since moving to ATL I've been on tour a ton and haven't been able to work with the youth as much as I'd like, but I have connected with a program called Soul Food Cypher that is doing good work there. 


Fingers on Blast: What keeps you inspired and motivated to work so tirelessly?



I've always tried my best to only take on projects and gigs that I honestly care about--that way it's not really work. It's cliche but it's so important to love what you are doing. I believe you get the best results that way, and even if the results don't come, you won't regret the time and energy spent. I'm incredibly blessed to have connected with Mike and El and (finally) made some semblance of a career out of this hip hop thing, but even if I hadn't, every moment before that lightning struck would have been worth everything I put into it.  I wouldn't have regretted any of the broke years stumbling around trying to figure out what I was doing, throwing shows that 20 people attended and DJing five nights a week for low-to-no money, because I loved being a part of the local hip hop scene and I loved trying to help great music reach more ears. It was what I was passionate about, so it wasn't really difficult for me to put in the looooong hours and make the many sacrifices involved.  Even now, seeing my StL guys like Tef Poe get serious recognition on a national level, and having Tef and Rockwell open for a few dates on the RTJ2 tour, is just as gratifying to me as playing Madison Square Garden or touring Australia.  


Fingers on Blast: You recently performed at the Isle of Light festival in the Dominican Republic with Run The Jewels.  Can you tell us a bit about that experience? Was it different from the average North American show?


For one, we usually can't see the Carribbean Sea from stage lol. The DR was an amazing experience--the show was great, the crowd was appreciative, and the people running the festival treated us extremely well. Oh and the food was amazing. Past that, it was incredible to walk around Santo Domingo with my wife and see some of the first buildings built in this hemisphere by the European settlers (the OG gentrifiers). I just can't believe I get to go to all these amazing places and do rap.


Thanks SO much to Trackstar for chatting with us.  Keep up with the man himself here.


52 Chokeules

We've been die hard fans of powerhouse MC Chokeules since high school.  When we ventured to the wrong side of the tracks (so to speak) in London, Ontario to the legendary (and now long gone) Embassy Hotel to see the trio known only as Toolshed.  This was probably back in 2000, and even then we were taken aback by the sheer force of Choke's delivery, and the perfect balance these three MCs were able to strike with one another.  

Cut to 2015, dozens of projects later and Chokeules has been in Toronto for a while, keeping extra busy as a card carrying member of the extra prolific Backburner crew alongside Toolshed partner Timbuktu and a bunch of other Toronto allstars such as More Or Les, Wordburglar, Ghettosocks and D Sisive.  He's also an active performer and contributor to The 5 Dollar Rap Show, a Toronto institution for 5 years now, bi-monthly at Rancho Relaxo.  We had a chance to chat with Choke leading up to the 5 year anniversary party, this Friday, April 10., 2015.

Fingers On Blast:  First of all thank you so much for taking the time to chat with us.

Chokeules:  It's my pleasure, thanks.

Fingers On Blast:  What's your first memory of hip hop?

Chokeules:  Probably just hearing songs in the schoolyard, listening to tapes that friends had stolen from their older brothers or sisters. My dad got me my first albums, Beastie Boys Licensed To Ill  and Fat Boys Crushin’, because that’s what the guy at the record store recommended for a 9-year-old. He wasn’t wrong. 

Fingers On Blast:  You're always involved in projects that involve so many collaborations with crews like Backburner, Swamp Thing, Toolshed or even on solo albums that have tracks with huge rosters on them.  What's the creative process for those projects involving so many creative minds?

Chokeules:  Yeah, I definitely enjoy the group dynamic, making music with your friends is fun as hell, and pushes you to be better. The creative process is basically just speak up if you have a dope idea. I’m in the studio every week with Swamp Thing, so even when we’re working on solo stuff we’re still bouncing ideas off each other and brainstorming for future projects. 

Fingers On Blast:  On Friday April 10th you'll be performing with Swamp Thing at Toronto's Rancho Relaxo for the 5th anniversary of the $5 Rap Show.  Can we expect any shows or tours outside of Toronto anytime soon?

Chokeules:  Yeah, that’s the $5 Rap Shows 5th Anniversary, which Swamp Thing has been down with since the jump, so we’re excited to celebrate. It’s a dope lineup too, so it’s gonna be a crazy show. There’s also an Urbnet Showcase for CMW next month. We'll be at Hard Luck Bar, Thursday May 7th, playing with some heavyweights. 

Fingers On Blast:  Outside of your immediate circle of artists, who are some of your favourite artists out there today?

Chokeules:  I’m out of touch with a lot of the new artists, but it’s cool to see boom bap and rap skills in the limelight again with acts like Joey Badass, Kendrick Lamar, Action Bronson, etc…even if I don’t have all the albums in heavy rotation, I’m always glad to see dope rappers doing well. And Run The Jewels is killing it right now, so it’s great to see dope shit actually get the credit it deserves. 

Fingers On Blast:  There's certainly been no shortage of projects coming from you lately, but what's in the works that we can get excited about?

Chokeules:  Yeah, we like to stay busy. There’s actually two new albums coming- the Peter Project produced Peter Swamp Project, and another crazy Swamp Thing album called Pray To Science. We’ve been working on both for a minute and they’re gonna melt some faces.

Fingers On Blast:  Which one of your past projects have the result that you're most happy with?

Chokeules:  Swamp Thing’s last album, Outer Limits. Go listen to my entire discography and tell me I’m wrong. Or just listen to that one, depending on your time constraints. 

Thanks so much to Chokeules for taking the time to chat. If you're in Toronto this weekend and love that real rap music, head to Rancho Relaxo on College Street for the 5th Anniversary of The 5 Dollar Rap Show. If you can't make it, head over here for lots of music and news from Chokeules and support this man!



47 Shad

Shad has been on an upward trajectory for a bunch of years now.  We've found ourselves wondering at times, how can he continue to be SO good?  How can he keep coming up with these incredible ideas?  How can he be always outdoing himself (and everybody else)? The answer is, he is a real artist.  A creative entity who's humble approach seems to ensure maximum inspiration. We've loved pretty much everything Shad has done and lately he's been accomplishing some pretty amazing feats; such as guest hosting CBC's Q, and announcing a solo show at Massey Hall in Toronto (March 27).  He's a busy guy, and there's no limits or ending in sight, lucky for us, he took the time to answer a few of our questions. 


-First off, if there were such a thing, what's a typical day in the life of Shad?

Every day is different! Usually I got a couple projects on the go so I spend some time on email, trying to keep up with things. Exercise, pray, eat... Work on new music... watch nba highlights, read... Catch up with friends and family. 

-What inspires you to create?  How do you stay motivated?

The unbelievable privilege of getting to do this for a living. The joy of creating, the fun of music... The desire to get better and communicate more purely... Also just deadlines and having to work like everyone else.

-How has your approach to creating and recording the music grown between 'When This Is Over' and 'Flying Colours'?

I've just learned so much, first of all. I didn't even know what EQ was back when I started making my first album. I didn't know anything beyond writing lyrics and maybe a vague idea of what songs are supposed to feel like. The motivation is different now too: Back then I was just writing songs because it was like an impulse. I was a little bit angsty and bored and had all the wild kid emotions. Every album since then, the inspiration has been different. 

-What's your process for preparing to take the stage?  Does it differ from show to show?

It doesn't differ much. I like to get into the room and get a sense of what the energy is like; what people are looking for that night and what I have to offer. Then I try to build a set list around those things and bring the right energy to the stage. Only pre-show rules for me are: a) no eating too close to showtime and b) wear a black t-shirt and lightweight shoes.

-Who is making your favorite music right now?  If you could work with anyone, who might it be?

Well it looks like the 3 giants of hip hop (Kanye, Drake, and Kendrick) got albums coming this year so we'll see! Outside of rap I'm liking Caribou's album a lot. The Alvvays album. and this band Copeland who broke up years ago but just put something out again in 2014.

Thanks so much to Shad for chatting with us!  You can help him get back on Q on CBC by tweeting @CBCRadioQ with the hashtag #QtheFuture in support of Shad being the next host. 
You can also retweet the status below, or post your own.