EL-P - Interview

How do you feel about the way people approach your solo album? Because I really feel like it is hard for them to consider it as something totally independent of all your other works such as The Cold Vein, or Funcrusher Plus.

Well I had a lot of really good reactions, and a lot of very confused reactions. But the thing about it is you have to understand that every time I come out with a record, half the time it’s a sound or a direction that people are completely not expecting. For instance we came out first with Funcrusher Plus, and then we came out with Little Johnny from the Hospitul and people were like "Why are there no lyrics in this ? what the fuck is this shit ???".

And then I did the Cannibal Ox album, and now I’m coming out with Fantastic Damage and it is a completely different sound, it is something that I specifically designed to be completely different from the rest. It’s really "Me, part One". It is more like an extinction from Funcrusher Plus, but seven years into the future. And I’m sure there is going to be reactions such as "this isn’t Cannibal Ox ?? What the hell happened ?" Honestly, I’m used to it and it is something I became accustumed to, and it is fine with me. Cause I think that it is an album that takes time, that is very dense…

…Yes, it has to be digested.

Yes exactly, it is not a party record. It’s some hardcore shit, you know what I mean ? It’s got a lot af things, a lot of thoughts going on in there. So I think there gonna be people who get it right away and really love it (and I experienced that already). And people who don’t feel that way and who need more time to listen to and get it. But it’s cool, I understand that. I’m not making music for the "mass media" or anything, and I don’t put myself in a position where I really have to worry about. This is the only thing that I have : I have to make it so that everybody loves it. I’ve never really given a fuck, I do what is natural to me and I’m proud of the record, I think it’s some shit and I don’t think that anyone has probably ever heard anything like it before. So it is understandable to me : when something is completely new it is not gonna be easily digested by everybody.

This is actually a pretty good answer to what I see like a modern problem for hip hop records, which is that their longevity is now much shorter than before.

Because mother fuckers do the same thing for 4 records and then that gets played out!

I’m not gonna do that. I’m not gonna fall off like that, because for me I’d get bored if I don’t do something that is different every time. And that’s the b boy essence, and this is what people don’t understand anymore : you have to constantly be advancing, you have to change, you have to try different things. If I’m doing a burner, I’m trying to do the new shit, the new style to make you look like a toy, basically. And you won’t be supposed to be able to do it, and you won’t even be supposed to get it, you see?

People don’t take risks anymore with music in hip hop, so of course the longevity isn’t there because they don’t develop their own vision. You’re an individual, you have to grow. At 27 years old you’re not the same person that you were at 20. You can’t apply your knowledge and what you understand about the world from at 20 to your 27 year-old life or you’ll die, you won’t grow, you won’t be able to function correctly. You have to change, to evolve in order to adapt to your environment. And that’s what you also need to do as an artist also.

Sometimes the hip hop format doesn’t fit for developing personal and emotional topics, to me. But Fantastic Damage surprised me because I felt a lot of personal emotions. Was it difficult for you to express all these very personal things into this album?

It was my natural evolution, what I needed to do artistically. This album was really building up in me. I wanted to do something that was more human than Funcrusher Plus. Funcrusher Plus was dope, but it was just talking shit, basically. Just B Boy shit. "Last Good Sleep" was the only song on that record where I really took the art that I was doing and really put my soul into it, and exposed myself. And I got addicted to that feeling cause there is something that can happen within the framework of creating something that can be like epiphany for you. And this is that feeling that I want. For me it made sense while I was working on Fantastic Damage. I was thinking : "I’m doing my first solo album, people have heard me throughout the years, they expect one thing, they heard what I’ve spoken about for these last years. They think they know what I do. But what does this solo record mean to me ? I’m not gonna try to recreate Company Flow. Cause Co Flow was 3 individuals, it was a time, it was a vibe. I just took the opportunity to go in words. I thought it was something I hadn’t really done yet as an artist, and I think that, as an artist, it was important for me to do that. I don’t think that you can’t really say that you are really an artist until you put your soul into something. And I felt like I had the opportunity to do that now.

Plus you know, I had become an adult. During the timeframe from Funcrusher Plus to now, I grew up. And it’s not that I’m not a kid anymore, but I went through a lot of internal shit. And it was important for me to be able to work some of those out musically, to exorcize some of the demons, some of the things that drive me as an individual. And this artform that I have at my disposal is my medium, my therapy. So I felt like in some ways the most powerful thing I could do for the listener would be to be completely honest, and to really let him in on who I am. As opposed to just : "ok, now it is just me talking shit".

So this is why I did it.

There is a rhyme on Tuned Mass Damper : "Mother Fucker did I sound abstract?" Who is this one for?

It becomes frustrating because everyone listens to your lyrics and it goes like "Whoa…"

M. Abstract is back !…So spacey!!…". "Spacey" ?? What are you talking about I’m not talking about space !?! So it was a little jab, because come on, they don’t even listen to the lyrics ! They think I’m abstract, or that everything I say is abstract, that there is no sense !…

Is this the way you are generally considered in the hip hop scene in the US?

No. there are some people who have always said that. And they always said that about a lot of different people, because they don’t actually take the time to listen to the shit. So that was the point : "Is that clear enough for you this time ? I’m making a specific statement and it means something". I use words stylistically cause that’s what being a b boy is about : it is about style and wordplay. So I think people get lost cause I play with words and structure and then they assume that there is nothing else there but the playfulness.

What are your relationships with the independent West coast scene and especially with the Living Legends?

That’s like our West coast family. When Co Flow came out in the East we were like holding it down or the independent scene. And when we went out West we connected with those guys cause they were doing the same thing. So it was natural. We’ve just been kind of a family ever since. We all know each other and have a lot of respect for each other. Me and MURS in particular are very good friends. There is a lot of mutual respect, it is like our extended crew. But everywhere we go we got crew. There is always someone who holds it down everywhere, that holds it down for the "undergound" scene, and for the spririt of the b boy shit and we connect with those guys easily.

Will you produce Murs’s whole album ?

No I’m gonna do some stuff. But I’m not trying to produce every album on Def Jux, I’m not that arrogant. "Oh, you’re on Def Jux ok ! Here’s a beat, here’s the "El P sound""! (laughs).

I’m gonna do some stuff for him, But Madlib will do some stuff too. Shock G will be on the album too…

Oh he’s back then? Good to hear that!

Yes and it’s gonna be some real good shit.

The artwork seems to be essential on every Def Jux release. Can you tell us more about it and about Dan Ezra Lang too?

Well for me one of the most important things is aesthetic, like you said. Back in the days, I already wanted the first Funcrusher vinyl to be special : silver, blue vinyl with the character on it…So on every release we did since that, I always worked very closely with the designers (cause I’m kind of like a control freak you know…). And the best designers I’ve worked with are the ones who can work with me, take my ideas, and make them better. And that’s what Lang does for us. He’s a very talented artist and a graphic designer also, and he works with me very closely. Anyway I can’t put anything out that’s ugly, I just can’t ! (laughs). Working with him is cool. We’ve already established certain things like the Def Jux pill on each record and its endless color combinations. It’s just fun to play with ! To me it’s a way to involve the fans in this, and if you’re a vinyl collector…

It makes you wanna collect them all…

Yeah exactly and it makes each release special. Especially since the vinyl market is decreased : everything that we do for vinyl we want it to be special. It is a way to reward the vinyl collectors for keeping vinyl alive.

Do you like to listen to your own music ?

It depends on what mood I’m in. I’m not that interested in myself. I don’t sit around and love myself (laughs). I’m more interested in other people. But what you have to understand is that when I’m making my music I’m listening to it a thousand times ! So by the time you come out with the record, it’s like : "Oh my God, lemme just move on !". But I do enjoy to listen to it cause I love the process of creating a song, and I love emceeing and producing so when the two come together I really enjoy it. But I’m not the guy who’s gonna play the tape of his own shit in the car : "Oh yeah, let’s go to the store…Let’s listen to my album then !!" (laughs). And frankly I get annoyed by those people !

So yes, I do like my shit but at the same time it takes so long to make it that by the time it becomes available to the public I’m done with it.

The way you work with samples and all the material you add in your songs is not typical at all from the classic hip hop productions. It sounds more like electronica…but I guess people have already told you that recently…

…Everyday in the past two weeks, 15 times a day (laughs) ! But it’s ok, so what’s the question?…

Sorry to be redundant! Let’s just say it is very surprising to see how easily you mix hip hop ingredients with other elements from electronica music.

Well, I don’t have any influences from electronica music. I don’t listen to it, I don’t know it. I’ve heard stuff that I respect, but I’m not a connaisseur, I’m not involved in that scene. I’m not knowledgeable about it. And yes, I’m not typical. I’m not your typical hip hop producer, and frankly I get bored by typical hip hop. So for me it’s just a natural organic evolution of my sound. And as long as the drums are hip hop I give myself the freedom to do whatever I want. I’m trying to create emotion in music, that’s all. So no, there is no direct connexion with electronica music but that wouldn’t surprised me if there are parallel lines that influence electronica music producers and me. We all know Afrika Bambaataa, and that was straight electronica music, but that was hip hop. And at that time nobody said it sounded more like dance music ! No, it’s Bambaataa, so it’s hip hop ! So to me that’s what I’m saying too : it’s all good, you can say it reminds you this or that but taken from me it’s hip hop, cause I’m hip hop. I do hip hop, I’ve always been hip hop, I grew up in the eighties in New York, my influences are the same classic hip hop influences that for anybody else.

And I’m rhyming over the shit.

How about the european audience? Are the Def Jux releases received differently here?

I get the feeling that there is a good reception. There has always been for Company Flow, we’ve always had a lotta love outta here and it’s been great. But the thing is that you guys in Europe are set up differently ! In France it seems a little weird : there is a gap between the mainstream rap that’s bullshit and the underground rap that is dope. That’s kinda the way it is in America too. But still, in the UK for instance, the mainstream media is not based of on money or record sales. It’s based of on what people enjoy and listen to. And that’s unique and so different from America, where it’s all about money. So I’ve always enjoyed the fact that we could get played on the radio here and have our chance here. And I think that the European Community is more artistic in general than America. Middle America is not the most culturally advanced in the world… In fact it’s like the black hole of culture ! (laughs). It’s different in New York and the major urban zones of course, where it is very culturally rich. And I’m pretty sure it is the same here.

So we’ve always enjoyed to be able to work out here, do shows, have fun, make a little money, connect with audience here. And that has always been pretty amazing.

You don’t have any connections with French hip hop scene, do you?

I met cats over the years but it is just a weird thing cause in America, we don’t import hip hop. We don’t even import hip hop music for England, which is ridiculous because it is the same language and there is a lot of good stuff there! So it is embarrassing 'cause you travel all over the world and everyone is really open minded, you meet cats who know your lyrics and don’t even speak your language. And then you’re asked : "Hey do you know this group ? they’re so dope, they’re multi platinum here and everyone loves them !" And you’re like : "Who???…No…" (laughs). And that’s the typical result of the isolationism of american culture. But I love hearing music, I don’t speak the language but I can hear the language, you know what I mean ? And I respect the vibe and the energy.

Would you release another full instrumental album one day ?

Yeah I think I might do that. That would be interesting. I’m doing one with Automator. But in terms of me doing an instrumental album I think that will happen again.

Because the Little Johnny... was entitled Volume 1.

Yeah, we wanted to settle the ground for that. But I think it won’t happen before I do another solo album. I wanna do that first. I wanna have another album within or so. Because it took so long for me to finally get stable so that I can do something, it was too long between records for me, and I don’t wanna get to that point again.

Sorry if I pass for an European ignorant, but you dedicated Tuned Mass Damper and Little Johnny… to Matt Doo. Who was he exactly ?

Matt Doo did the cover for Funcrusher Plus, and also Organized Konfusion’s Extinction Agenda. A very talented guy who died. He got shot.

Last question : who’s your favorite super hero?

Ah shit… that’s a good question… Right now I’m feeling Electra, just 'cause I wanna fuck her, she just has this great ass…

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