Chase: “All right. We are back with Witness. If you missed Part 1 of this interview, you can go back and read it now. You can stream the entire thing with the player below, download it for free, or continue reading. Thanks for tuning in.
We are on the phone with Witness. A minute ago, we mentioned Rhymesayers. You’re not on Rhymesayers but you are based out of the same area, right?”
Witness: “Yeah. I moved to Minneapolis about three years ago. Before that I was in Philadelphia.” I’ve been doing everything independently since I started this when I was about 15. It’s not necessarily a total product of me saying screw another label.
These days a lot of rappers try to find their ways on to labels by a mainstream approach by sort of pitching themselves to a label. I’d rather just build stuff organically and end up either working with them on the same stage or by another means. So, it has its own benefits. It has its own drawbacks. It’s just like everything else.”
Chase: “You do a lot more than just MC when it comes to hip-hop culture as well, don’t you?”
Witness: “Yeah, yeah. I make all my own beats, for the most part. I can list other Mcs or producers that I’ve worked with. I try to keep it almost exclusively for people I’ve become friends with.
I think hip-hop in general has a feel to it where people are like, ‘You two should hop on a track together.’ As soon as you meet an MC, everyone just wants to do songs together. I feel that it’s the only genre like that. If you look at other genres of music, it’s not very common that you’ve got a vocalist guesting on every other track. I want to keep that kind of feeling to hip-hop. I think, while it’s good to mix it up with other artists and get different sounds going.
Like you said, with the the incredibly, incredibly ridiculously flattering comparison to Illmatic, but partially the reason that album was as good as it was, is that it only had one guest on it. That was a crazy concept at that time. And he carried that album on his own. I think that should be a benchmark for all MCs – try to carry an album all on your own, and once you’ve got that, then sure, load up your album with a bunch of other MCs”
Chase: “I agree with that. There are too many MCs who sound good for a verse but simply can’t carry a song. Or they sound good peppered all over the place where you are hearing them but then you hear their album and it is disappointing. It’s watered down with guest appearances and they aren’t really holding up the fort themselves. So there is definitely something to be said about that.
The other new trend in hip-hop are these one-off collaborations. There are so many one producer / one MC albums coming out. I was just wondering if you’ve ever considered doing one of those and being behind the boards instead of in front on the mic?”
Witness: “I’d love to. But to be honest, when I’m making beats on my own, I’ll either find a sample or chop up a sample and get a loop going and a chorus and a 16 bar beat, and then I won’t touch it for a year. So I’d have to kind of change my whole productivity to do it, which isn’t a bad thing at all, but God bless the MC that has to deal with that. I probably wouldn’t be the easiest producer in the world to work with. But it would be something I would definitely love to do.
The producers I love best can make beats and you know their beats, but then they make a record with another dude and it is completely different style. I’d want to make an album with an MC where I am fitting their style and it is just my interpretation of it. I think would be a lot more difficult. It took me ten years to figure out my own style, ya know?
It’s something that I really want to do. I dig those one-off albums. I think it is a really interesting thing that is happening right now. I think hip-hop in general is in a really weird place right now.”
Chase: “Yeah, there are so many different aspects and sub-genres and styles and ways to do it now. I’m an elementary school teacher and the stuff I listen to is so far removed from what they listen to. The one thing I’ve noticed about kids and hip-hop is that if I play some rap music for an eight, or nine, or ten year old, they invariably hear swearing in it even when there is none.
So many people have this perception of rap as being vile and just about sex, swearing, and all this negative stuff. But there is so much positive music out there that I try to expose people to as much as I can, either at school or here on the radio waves”
Witness: “That’s a really positive thing. It makes sense if you think about it. I can even see where they are coming from. Even as much as I have listened to it coming up, there are some records that don’t have any swearing on it and I find out later it doesn’t and I’m like, ‘Really? That whole record didn’t have any.’
So I guess you kind of assume as being a genre of music where there isn’t anything that can be held back, which is a positive thing. But at the same time, there are different ways to use it.
I think I might swear a couple times on the ‘Everafter LP’ but even I try to keep it down. The reason why is because I’m trying to keep it clean. I have a terrible mouth. But it’s mostly because it feels lazy. There are so many words. There are millions of words you can use right there.
I think it’s good where it’s used for emphasis. I think it’s pretty obvious where some cats are just using it to fill a space. I think trying to avoid it actually promotes good writing. Hip-hop is amazing in that regard. I always joke with my friends that writing a rap song is way more difficult than writing in different genres.
If you look at their lyric sheet and it’s like a paragraph. You look at a rap song and it’s like two pages. You are writing a lot more. There’s a lot more content. There are a lot of different boundaries and a lot of different rule sets that you have to apply to, and they force you to be a better writing.
I think that as a teacher, it is great that you are exposing kids to it. It’s genre that essentially taught me creative writing. I learned about syllable structure, iambic pentameter, and much more, all through the process of writing songs.
I know a couple of teachers in our age-group and that is exactly what they are doing. As we get older, people will start viewing it less as something that has to be threatening. It can be so many different things.
I think it should be threatening. Every genre should have something that is threatening and non-threatening, beautiful and ugly. That’s what life is and if we are supposed to be writing about what life is, then you have to mirror all of those aspects of it.”
Chase: “That is the one thing I like about hip-hop is the freedom we have to write about a lot of different topics and how real it seems to be. I know that I focus on lyrics and pay attention to what people are saying in their songs regardless of the genre. I know a lot of people just listen to the beat or the chorus or the rhythm, but I listen to what people say.
There are so many pop songs and rock songs where if you listen to what they say, they really aren’t saying anything. There’s nothing there, and what they are saying doesn’t make sense half of the time.
I like hip-hop because it is saying something most of the time. And it is doing it in a very clever way. And now that we have all of this history behind us, it is starting to get recognized and appreciated. Hip-hop is no longer seen as a fad. We have rich history we can look back on and celebrate and I think that is amazing.”
Witness: “I do too. As it gets older, it becomes a different animal. There’s a picture floating around online of Ice Cube in his NWA days.
He’s got his full get-up, super-threatening picture and underneath it, there’s a picture of him from one of his movies where he’s got a life vest on and a fishing rod. You look at it and it’s kind of sad, but it’s kind of realistic too. People grow up. Hip-hop grows up.
I think that there is definitely a threat that as hip-hop gets older and a little bit more common that people will look at it as a safe thing. I think that is the most dangerous thing for it.
Personally, I started off writing mostly political stuff. Eventually I got so burned out being worried about politics that I shifted my focus.
I don’t think hip-hop should ever become something like what punk rock became. I don’t think it should be anything where its roots are lost.
It was people coming out and saying things that perhaps you’re parents don’t want you to be listening to, which does have a value to it because those things are real. There are definitely records out there where people are talking about stuff they’ve never done, but there are just as many records out there where guys are talking about things that legitimately happen.
So as an MC who doesn’t talk about a lot of that stuff, I still have a love for it. Those are the records I grew up on. There’s a lot of reality in those records. That is what is going to keep hip-hop alive, that broad range of material.
Like Odd Future. Some people might call it horrorcore, which it basically is. But, you still need people that are talking about the ugly things just as much as you need everyone else talking about all the beautiful things. The best MCs are the ones who are going to bring both to the plate.”
Chase: “On that note, let’s play ‘Beautiful’ by Masta Ace and then come back and talk some more with hip-hop producer and emcee Witness.”
Chase: “Remember to come back tomorrow to continue reading this transcript. If you don’t want to wait that long you can download the whole show right now or stream it with the player below. Thanks for tuning in.”