Evan Gabriel

Posts Tagged ‘rap’

Beats & Biscuits: Exporting with Art Vandelay

In Audible, INTERVIEW on October 16, 2013 at 6:55 pm

Art Vandalay in Oakland, CA.

The first time I met Art Vandelay, he was standing outside a mess hall in Naknek, Alaska, professing the significance of early James Brown recordings. On our first lunch break at the Salmon cannery, he made a simple but bold claim that resonated with me. “Those recordings are the basis of rap,” he said in his guts-stained sweatshirt.

And from that moment on, I knew one thing: I fucked with this kid Vandelay. But he wasn’t Art Vandelay yet. In fact, he’d barely begun to think about producing. But after nearly 560 hours spent working in a fish factory during the hours of 11 and 3pm, something clicked. By the end of that summer, when we’d made all of our fish money and couldn’t wait to get back to the world and cake, Vandelay did one thing. He went home, bought a laptop and began constructing beats that had been turning over in his head during those ever-elusive 560 hours.

“My music is kind of that same idea—taking old sounds and flipping their context,” Vandelay recently told me from Oakland over a Skype call as he displayed some pieces from a few of his favorite new visual collage artists.

I guess that’s why I like doing that with images too. You can take a piece of a song/image, combine it with another piece and it sounds/looks completely different than the original.” Vandelay said.” Nowadays, no information is safe from repurposing. Art based on repurposing of aural and visual information is a truly great contribution from the generations of the 1990s and 2000s.”

Collage Art

“Sprinkles on a donut, if you will.”

From the perch in his shared Oakland studio loft, Vandelay matches his passion for collage art with a current outlet in music. Approaching the recording process with bits and pieces, namely old Jazz or Blues recordings, the 24-year-old refurbishes sounds to create visions. This process allows Vandelay to breathe life into the very material he chooses to tell stories with.

“I tend to be of the same opinion as Jim Jarmusch, who said, ‘Select only things to steal that speak directly to your soul. If you do this, your work (and theft) will be authentic.’”

His first EP, “Double Dippin’ the Chip,” is a cohesive collection of instrumentals that feel anything but naked without their rap overcoats. Vandelay takes his time with samples in “Mt. Gomery,” while moving to speedier, hard-hitting anthems like “YouKnowWhatItIs,” which you can practically hear any member of Dipset* spitting on.

Musically, what’s the biggest difference between “Double Dippin’” and “Ebb Side?”

“With ‘Double Dippin’ the Chip’ it was mostly playing a song through and finding the things I liked. I didn’t have a Midi controller at first, so some of those tracks are after I’d gotten going with Midi. Now I use an MPC 1000 and an SP404, the latter of which has a lot of effects that you can add with knobs while playing the track live as opposed to automating, or drawing them in on a grid. Adding all your effects live gives it a much more unique sound.

“Playing a beat live on the MPC is just more fulfilling to me than programming drums. My process changes a lot though. Sometimes I’ll just use one note from a song, put it into the sampler and then its suddenly similar to a synth that you can play chords on or write melodies. But when I find a really nice loop, it pains me to chop it into pieces. EbbSide is kind of a mix of those two approaches. The 8 bar harp loop repeats throughout the song, but there are a bunch of small, manipulated pieces layered over the top. Sprinkles on a donut, if you will.”

I recently heard a project you helped put together, Hot Records Society’s volume II, “On A Trip for Biscuits.” How did that collective come about?

“About a year and a half ago, I decided I wanted to assemble a compilation of beats from people I had been listening to mostly on Soundcloud. The idea of Hot Record Society is basically like an audio zine, we try to collect tracks from like-minded producers. Releasing a project as a group is beneficial because everyone involved gets exposed. I think it wound up being pretty cohesive and people were diggin’ it. So with the donations from our first volume, “Jive Turkeys,” we were able to compile make a second one and have a bunch of cassettes made.”

On “Jive Turkeys,” Vandelay practices patient drops and matured drums with tracks like “YoTengoDeracho.”

Why did you choose to release “Volume II: On A Trip for Biscuits” on cassette tape? “Cost of production, for one. Who knew it was so cheap to have cassettes made? But also, with a CD, you put the songs on your computer anyway. With a tape, you gotta find a tape player or play it in your car.  I think we all probably do some of our best listening in cars. Also, cassettes are very conducive to this kind of release. Having all these unmastered tracks [mixed by 39 different people] under the same lo-fi, hissing roof adds a nice cohesiveness.


“And Let’s be real, cassettes last longer. You can toss a tape out of a two-story window and it will probably still work.  One big scratch on it and a CD is done.”

At the end of October, Vandelay will leave the States to live in Ecuador.

“I’m going to go help my friend with his project to build two solar powered boats in the Amazon. I don’t really know what my role is going to be but this dude needs help because it’s a big project with a lot of different facets. Another huge draw is that I’ll hopefully have a lot of spare time to work on music.”

What’s the plan for the jungle, keep making music? Or get really fat like Marlin Brando in “Apocalypse Now? “Haha, I’m sure I’ll go to the jungle at least once, but mainly we’ll be in Quito where most of the project negotiations and politics are going down. I’m just going to take the SP sampler because it’s pretty small and very light. It also runs on AA batteries, which is perfect for traveling. Potentially I could just set up on the street with a little amp and get busy. Probably going to leave most of my gear though. Just my computer, SP and interface.”

For his next project, “MEJIWAHN,” Vandelay is planning to use a lot more small samples to make up a larger collage that is the body of the work. He hopes to find more vocal samples to lay over the tracks.

“In the end, it’s just a beat, so you need something to keep you stimulated. I mean, I try to make the songs interesting enough so that they’re not just the same loop over and over again. But you know, sometimes that’s just what it calls for. If you have a subtle non-musical sample every now and then, it can really help to carry the track.”

How is working with artists over the Internet? “It’s kinda wack. I mean, in a historical sense it’s incredible but I think things would go much smoother if I was working with the person directly. But it is amazing that I can form an artistic relationship with someone I haven’t even met. With Chester [Watson], I’m learning what that dude likes by trial and error.”

Watson, the 16-year-old walk on from St. Louis, who’s syrupy flow has been compared to Earl Sweatshirt’s, has written to 5  of Vandelay’s tracks.  Only one has been released.

Why is your Instagram handle a name I can’t pronounce “Haha, not sure if I can even pronounce it. Mejiwahn is yet to be born.”

What’s the scene in Oakland like for young artists? “There’s a lot of stuff happening in Oakland, it’s just hard to find it. I think the art and music scene has been strong for years and years though. People are just now starting to catch on, including me.”

Who are your top three influences? “Damn, top three?


“That’s tough…. I’d say in no particular order, Dorothy Ashby, Madlib, and Tribe.”

 Just Blaze or 9th Wonder? “Pete Rock.”

Cholula or Tapatio? “Valentina’s.”

Mess with the old shit, Vandelay seems to be saying through his music. In a culture of tweets and mixtapes, it’s comforting to see an artist re-engineering material that is immortal and universal, no matter the century.

Check out albums here

*Crunk Muzik son


In Audible, Current on July 18, 2013 at 11:11 pm

In recent weeks at the Incorporated Factory, aka the lab, with nothing more than a few ideas floating around and our piles of music, digital and vinyl, Mark McGinnis and I decided it was time to put together a mix that would sum up not only our tastes in music, but create a new listening experience. I like to think of our “Beats and Palaces” compilation as more than a couple “mashups,” a term that was coined by notorious the laptop DJ, Girltalk. Instead, I think of these blends as handcrafted selections with a degree of authenticity based on what breaks we used and why we paired certain artists with others. There is a rhyme and reason to all. Don’t let anybody tell you differently. Thanks for the patience. Now sit back and indulge in that fact that while your workday passes by, this is the state of music in the streets.

Speaking from The Middle: Ebro Darden, August Wilson and Cultural Identity

In Current, Nonfiction on May 30, 2013 at 3:32 am


How does someone compare Hot 97’s Program Director Ebro Darden with the late playwright August Wilson? And more so, why?

I recently saw an interview that New York radio station Hot 97 did with Hip-Hop’s Riff Raff, or that dude with a 16 on Harry Fraud’s “Bird On A Wire” who’s gaudy style and antics are ridiculous enough for us to question whether he is for real or not. And this question is exactly what Ebro asks Jody Highroller on Hot 97. After mumbling through his grill about custom diamonds and tattoos, which as he explains, “ain’t stickers,” Riff Raff eventually lets everybody know that despite his clothes and fucking rowdy custom jewelry, the man underneath the purple lenses is as serious as cancer.

Although I’ve read that under the direction of Harmony Korin, James Franco embarked on a character study of Riff Raff, along with this Florida cat called Dangeruss, for Korine’s new film Spring Breakers, I didn’t know much else about Raffy. Yet what I was struck by most during the morning interview was the way Ebro, who’s father was black and mother white, gasses Riff Raff on his demeanor and how it perpetuates negative black stereotypes. Through his calculated manner and pertinent points, Ebro reminded me of a modern August Wilson—who’s mother was black and father white—because he was so well spoken about the issue of identity based on race and how labels of black and white are easily dictated through popular media.

If you don’t know about August Wilson, I will refrain from diving into anything too didactic and just write a few sentence fragments: mixed playwright who grew up broke in Pittsburgh’s Hill District, dropped out of school in 10th grade after being accused of plagiarizing a paper on Napoleon, autodidact from the Pittsburgh Public Library and wrote The Century Cycle: 10 plays detailing African-American life at different intervals of the twentieth century. Oh yeah, and he won two Pulitzer prizes and a Tony Award.

In speaking about issues black and white, Ebro and Wilson are very similar in their viewpoints because they have lived the life first hand and seen the effects of what it means to “act” or “speak” black in comparison to the typical white vernacular. In his interview with Bill Moyers, Wilson breaks down his experience understanding the differences between African-Americans and other cultures. Ultimately Wilson states that black folk are specific, as any race or ethnicity is specific, based on the circumstances of upbringing. On the other hand, Ebro accuses Riff Raff of “reinforcing materialism in Hip-Hop [while] being white,” which, as he states, is wrong because he’s not from that world.

Ebro stresses that it’s unacceptable to be white in Hip Hop while perpetuating materialism in the same manner that was made fashionable by “predominately black men” who “came from an environment where they had shit, and the only way they could make themselves feel better was to overcompensate by spending money on jewelry and clothes.” In this quote, Ebro distinctly conveys, much to Cipha Sounds dismay, that due to Riff Raffs upbringing and circumstances as a white dude from Houston, he’s not merited in his rap persona.

During the Hot 97 interview, I couldn’t help but be reminded of Wilson’s elegant description of the black experience in America along with it’s subtle nuances. Where does that leave us? Is it cool, or more importantly, culturally acceptable, to be white and get your shit rowed with beads, rock an MTV and BET tattoo while being regarded as the influence behind James Franco’s gangster character in Spring Breakers?

Despite what color your skin is it comes down to this: If Riff Raff was as nice on the Mic as Eminem, Eyedea, Quel, Action Bronson or any other white rappers, then yes Raff, swerve on. If Riff Raff was, as Wilson says, raised in the circumstances that necessarily dictate one’s speech, public demeanor and cultural standing, then yes. Yet in the Hip Hop world today it boils down to skills and how much someone can pack into a flow, and this Riff Raff definitely did not bring at his Hot 97 morning session. Hell, the dude sounds like any other human who just steamed a morning L and downed three Coronas.

In Case You Slept: Danny Brown’s XXX and Why You Should Listen

In Audible on May 29, 2013 at 9:05 pm


by Evan Gabriel

For Danny Brown, 2011 marked the beginning of fame with the release of his XXX mixtape. Listeners were hit with an X-rated style, which even caused non-Hip Hop fans to google the Detroit rapper.

On one hand, the first half of XXX is extremely celebratory—touting life as a fresh superstar, being signed to A-Trak’s Fool’s Gold Records and spoils of success, which in Brown’s case are most notably sexual exploits. Tracks like “Lie4” and “Bruiser Brigade” celebrate these triumphs endlessly. Yet beyond the superficial fluff of money and the smorgasbord of substances that power the thirty-one-year old, there is a darker side to XXX that sheds light on the beauty of duality.

On the second half of he album, Brown explores his history, the grim details of present day Detroit and all the natural horrors that plague most of the city’s impoverished inhabitants. On songs like “Scrap or Die,” Brown illustrates fictional (or nonfictional) accounts of the grim copper and wire trade in Motor City. What’s more, Brown directly addresses his audience taunting, “You probably laugh/ ‘cause you know it’s true,” eerily predicting his listeners’ responses to this practice of modern barbarity, like the pillage of the crumbling city’s shambles, its abandon houses and structures providing the very livelihood of natives. Can anyone say concrete jungle?

Throughout XXX, however, Brown refuses to let the listener settle on his depiction of fame or famine as the album’s sole focus. Instead, like reality, he balances the two seamlessly. To use a phrase from Detroit author Jeffrey Eugenide’s, Danny is not acting as “a cheerleader for Detroit.” Instead, the rapper depicts Motown as a real place, one of squalor and desperation. Yet above all the grit, the city is simply his home.

Brown’s debut mixtape ends in painful realism as he portrays his life constantly teetering on destruction: “If I don’t make it my life’s a failure,” he airs with a high-pitched delivery, causing the listener to view his unabashed history of poverty and drug abuse as essential to his fame. While songs like “Blunt After Blunt” and “Radio Song” have clearly reached a wide range of listeners, the skeleton of XXX comes from a darker place, one of financial frustration, self-consciousness, and the struggle to make it in the city’s iron heart.

Listeners of XXX are left with a graphic picture of the dualistic lifestyle that Brown continues to live. Whether celebrating raucous evenings backstage, nods of Xanies on his couch or ordering girls to sit on his face, Brown also shows the pain of drug-dependencies, the influx of mindless ramblings, MDMA infused sublimity and the overbearing past that leaves the rapper with a wide smile despite his missing front tooth.

Get Incorporated

In Audible on May 28, 2013 at 6:17 pm

The Incorporated Clothing: Throwback Thursday


50’s Five Best Joints, by Evan Gabriel

this is... The Neighborhood

the Story within the Story


that almighty turn up

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