posted: 09-22-04
interview : brolin winning
You and Kurt have worked together on so many classic projects over the years. How did you guys first hook up and why do you think you work so good together?
What happened is, when I was in New York, this guy used to always send me tapes; he was a DJ on the radio. And we would go to Oakland and San Francisco to do shows when I was in Ultramagnetic MCs. And we would go up to the radio stations. So after a whole I gave him my address.
Usually when you give your address, nothing ever happens; it's just industry baloney. So what happened is this guys started sending me cassettes. And I never used to listen to 'em. Then after a while, one day I was just sitting around in my house like: "let me open this envelope." And they were kind of good.
That's when I separated with Ultra. The last album was "The Four Horsemen". I was in a moment of just solo. I needed a break. Like my career was on the total edge of there. And I got a call that Kurt was in Santa Cruz recording tracks. So I went out to Santa Cruz and spent a week, relaxed, and we did some songs. We went up to KMEL, and from there we was working together.
We went up to the Gavin, then went to Capitol and they were like "I wanna sign you." The deal was told to me like seven months before I got to LA. So in my mind I'm like "damn I'm walking around New York and everybody's phony and plastic." I recorded six tracks with Kurt then I told Kurt to take those tracks to Capitol Records.
Next thing you know we moved to LA and we had a big apartment in Beverly Hills. Capitol cut me a check for maybe - I guess - a half a million dollars, for moving costs everything else. That was a good deal.
So ever since then I was with Kurt. We lived together for a long time. It was an experience (laughs). Then I had to learn the work ethics. It was its little ups and downs we had. I had kind of a night schedule. We recorded the "Sex Style" album for Capitol which never came out because they decided to cut a lot of their staff.
Is that why you started Funky Ass?
Yeah, that was a part of it.
This is the first album the two of you have done together in a while. Was there a big reason you decided to take a break?
Well, I was into production for a long time as you know. I was doing the old Ultramagnetic stuff, I used to play the basslines on a lot of the records, but I never put my name on it. Even when I worked with Automator, like on "Blue Flowers" I played the basslines and stuff. So I was always into production. I think people were more thinking I was just a lyricist, which I wasn't. I just felt like I wanted to do beats also.
So me and Kurt separated for a while, cause I wanted my musical reputation also. That's one thing a lot of people never know. I used to hide behind a lot of ghost producers, even the "Black Elvis" album I was in a lot of the production. But we had ghost names like Nightcrawler and Live Seven, you know, I was behind a lot of that stuff. But people are so programmed that the emcee can't make his own beats. So it made me feel like … the producer syndrome.
As somebody who's been putting out records for almost twenty years, you've seen the industry change dramatically. What do you think of the current state of the music today?
I think rap evolved from New York with a big mass appeal, and I think it evolved from California also. I think it just changed. Because when you get out of New York and LA, two selfish cities, they just wanna play their own cultural music. I think the world changed a lot, 'cause once you get to Cleveland, Ohio and Dallas, Texas, all these Southern cities, they got their own thing going on. And people don't wanna adjust and make the change and adapt, you know what I' m sayin'?
So many emcees have come and gone since you first hit the scene, and very few of the guys from the eighties are still doing it today. What do you credit for your longevity in the business?
See, me, I was always ahead of my time. I never did walk around saying "yes, yes y'all." So I was writing all the time ahead of my time when I made records. I never had a style that was laid back. It wasn't back in time either. And my image wasn't back in time. We was a future group that was probably 2008 when we came out. So we just, myself, time just caught up with me. I was ahead of time.
I mean, I look at some of these rappers now that make records, they look old. They look forty years old. Some of these cats don't even look young; the new cats today they look old.
So I think people see my modern reflection. It's not like I'm walking around with British Walkers on. I'm not walking around totally out of time, something way back. I'm not wearing an old pair of overlaps, I'm not wearing a Quarterfield, I'm not walking around with a box in my hand and an afro. When people see me, they're shocked that I'm very up to date. Like, I've been up to date. You know, I've got the same baseball hat on, the same jersey - I don't even wear jerseys anymore, I'm beyond that. I got brand new Air Force Nikes on.
I think people expect to see me (laughs) dressed with a dashiki on, and that really hurts you know. 'Cause when I see rappers and stuff, they look at me up and down, they look at me like I'm not supposed to be in the airport. So it shocks me 'cause I feel like "wow, they think I should have an old bag getting off the greyhound bus, in my sixties or something." I just kind of wonder what these motherfuckers are thinking about, you know?
On one track you call out Andre from Outkast, do you want to elaborate on that?
Andre. Andre Benjamin, he's a big fan of mine. I'm so honored that he is. I think Andre is a great big fan of mine. I don't think Big Boi. I think Big Boi is a separate entity.
But I seen that I had a lot of influence over Andre, you know, as a child growing up. I seen that I had a lot of influence. And, from what I learnt, that what I used to see, in syncopation, I've seen a lot of my images totally at the right time, at the same time. Like "wow, I came out with these glasses and a Kangol." Then I look at TV and stuff and I see him, like "wow this guy has the same hat that I wore in Vibe magazine." Or "this guy has the same outfit I wore to this party on."
It's like his stylist or somebody, it seemed like his stylist was my spy. It seemed like his stylist is right across the street from my house. 'Cause I used to talk to my friend H and I used to say, "H, this guy has the same stuff." But not when he got weird. Not when he got too weird. I'm not saying I'm going to go all the way. But a lot of little things like the glasses and the blond wig, the little things I used to have, like the Elvis wig. I used to have other wigs just to wear at shows and clubs. And the capes, you know.
But I remember a lot of the clothes that they wore, I remember when I was with Sony, the same wardrobe had went through my cold eyes. The stylist was trying to make me wear that same wardrobe. And I used to look at them wear stuff, I used to be like "wow, that was shit I turned down." Sony used to try to get me to wear this stuff. And I was kind of noticing in my career, I was like "maybe, I didn't go as far as he did to do what he had to do." Like when I look at a lot of people, it makes me think about myself. I'm like "wow, the integrity." I was saying to myself that I'm a rapper, and I'm good, I don't have to do so much stuff to try and sell myself.
What I feel about them was, you know, the other guy was a very talented guy I think. I'm happy with their success, but I just think, it was a little more of their visual that sold them. They were very talented, but I just think people, didn't get to see their talent first. I think people saw their clothing; the image was just pushed so different. And now I'm thinking that at the time of Black people, I'm like, when I did all that stuff that they would be doing, and just a pinch of it, they wasn't even ready for it. I think the timing that they came out on their album was, people were ready for it. The stuff I was doing, people was probably looking crazy at me.
Not to say I wasn't an OutKast person that was into OutKast. I was into OutKast before people know about who they was. When they did the first album, when Goodie Mob was in the video in the backyard eating chicken. The 'Players' thing. You know, "all the players with the afros and braids"; the first album.
But, it's like once people got into their album, to me it was just a change, like people didn't wanna accept that they did do a different twist. I followed their first album, but when they did the second and third, I felt like" ok, something is strange here, it's like a drastic change."
But, I really found out about the music industry. They'll market a pink monkey and people will buy it. I just figured out that people will swallow everything, My whole observation was, I was a big blueprint in their career.
What happened was, when I was at Sony, the company seen what they could have done. They've seen what I was doing and they're just into an extra dimension of it. But I wasn't trying to go that far. 'Cause I was a good rapper. I don't think I needed to do as many things as they did. Because at the end of the day I still have my integrity.
My overall feeling about Andre, I feel like, one day me and him might meet up together, and maybe I might need him to sing a chorus, I might need him to sing hooks with me. I sing my own hooks still, but one day I might help him out on a record. I might have a funkier track for him to rap on. I have no beef with the guy, but I might have a little more funkier stuff for him. (laughs) You know what I'm sayin'?
Who are you feeling? Are you really into any artists as a fan?
Uh, not really. I love the competition of what's going on out there right now. I think the South is making different things, starting to experiment. And I think a lot of people don't really wanna give up the trophy and say, "well, they are deserving their best due right now." But me myself I've always been different and I feel like, when people talk about a lot of these new producers, when people mention Timbaland and they mention the Neptunes, it's like, the publicity is just, was their overcast. I had been doing that stuff they were doing it, way before they came out. And that's what's bugged out. People always thought about their distinctive beats. It's like I was doing those distinctive beats before those guys even cane out.
So it's like, the history of those… authors who are writing all this stuff, they're putting a big cover on this whole picture. Maybe I wasn't on the cover of Rolling Stone about it, but I've been, I've been doing those distinctive beats. And the thing about me was, I did a whole album of distinctive beats. Like, when you listen to "Spankmaste"r, you listen to "Black Elvis", I did fifteen or sixteen tracks of distinctive beats.
These guys, besides Timbaland and the Neptunes, all those other producers, they might just do two of those brand new weird different type of beats. The rest of their tracks are samples from other records and other people. I'm like, "you're not considered an artist yet. You're not Ronald Isley yet, you're not James Brown, you're not George Duke." You know what I'm saying? "You're not Billy Preston, you're not going down on the list. You're not Chuck Berry." You're not making your own music, at the end of the day.
And that's one thing that I can say to myself. I'm not saying that in my leisure time I might not rap over Brass Construction. But that's in my leisure time. As far as me, I can label myself original, an original person, because I make my own stuff. I don't have to pay for my samples, I don't have to give the Isley Brorthers half of my money. I don't have to give James Brown a partial cut, I don't have to go pay for a reverse singing sound from Diana Ross. And these guys are all doing that. These new cats is all doing the same thing. They're not artists.
At the end of the day, when you hang up your drum machine, and take off your drum machine gloves, you was never an artist, you was a sampler. You bought jazz records and sampled them. You bought Quincy Jones and looped it. You're a sampler. You're not even respected by Quincy Jones. That's one thing when these guys see me. When Bootsy see me, he can respect me, when George Clinton see me he can respect me. I don't have to look up to them, I can look eye to eye with that person. These other people have to look up to them. I can look eye to eye 'cause they can say, "well, you did your own stuff. I like your stuff." They can walk up to me and say "I like that stuff you're doing, you got your own stuff." You know, When I see Slave, when I see Brass Construction, when I see Cameo, I don't have to say I'm trying to be like them. These [new] guys are replicating. These guys are samplers and stuff like that.
See what it is, a lot of producers are scared to do anything different. Like you got your keep it real guys: a lot of the keep it real guys feel like, if you don't sample a jazz record you're not in the jazz club, you're not in the backpack organization. I don't care about all that shit. I'm like, if it sounds different and good, why not? I think people are mad because I'm the first guy. Anything that comes out, I've already done. I got records that I have, Jamaican records with basslines on top that I rap on top of. And people think I'll never do that. I think people doubt my limitations. Like "word, Kool Keith rapping on a Spanish record?" Yeah, why not?! Like, people will try to come out and act like they're new, and I'm like, I did this shit [already]!
What type of equipment do you usually use? And are you doing any of the beats on the Diesel Truckers album?
I use all the same stuff that these guys use, but these guys are so trendy, they use the trendy keyboard. They use the same eggs and bacon that the next house is using. I might use the same stuff but I touch different patches. These guys are programmed, they just jumped on the bandwagon. They might say "oh Lil Jon is using the [KORG] Triton with the SP-09." They just wanna use the same formula, like twenty people will try to follow Lil Jon. While I'll still use the same equipment as Lil Jon, but I'm into other patches and stuff.
When I see those type of people, I like them to have respect for me because they know I'm not trying to copy what they do, that I'm doing a formula that's different also. I'm not gonna try to copy Pharrel's stuff. I'll flip something, but I'm not trying to copy someone, like when you listen to these R&B records: when you listen to Joe, Britney Spears, and all these different artists. They all use the same sounds. Justin Timberlake, you know, whoever's doing his production, these people are setting a formula to work at the same stuff for radio so people can hear that similar sound. Everybody has that same sound. R&B has no differentiation at all. Sony will sign an R&B artist and Interscope will sign an R&B artist and they both have the same technique. It's like, "oh yeah this is what R&B is right now, lets use that same sound." It's like, A&Rs are very stupid.
I think it's A&Rs. I call it A&A: A and Assholes. They don't have a distinctive vision to do their own stuff. A&R can't go out no more and find a distinctive band like Mandrill, or the Dazz Band, Larry Graham, Aretha Frankiln. They can't find a new R&B artist or a distinctive new rapper. They just look for whatever's popular. Like, Britney's hot, let's go find Britney 2 or 3 or 4. Usher's hot, let's go find Usher 2. Let's go find Destiny's Child number 2, let's go find more girls that sound like them. Why don't more people go left? Why don't people sign a rock band that wears alligator shoes and a suit? People are programmed to go find a rock band with black t-shirts. Like you open a rock magazine, you don't know a single group, you got fifty pages of guys, each group has black paint around they eyes and black t-shirts. Rock has like one continuous trip, like, all I gotta do is draw black paint around my eyes and put on a black shirt. Instant rock.
There's been talk of a new "Dr. Octagon" album, with you and a different producer. Is that still in the works?
What happened with the Octagon record was, that record was so… What happened was I signed with a label. I ran into this problem twice, like with Ultramagnetic trying to do another album, they were trying to do exactly another "Critical Beatdown" album. Which is totally impossible. Instead of just using new equipment, new sounds, new stuff, new technology, to make a brand new album and don't even think about that one, they were so much into worrying about how to make an album that was close to the first album, that they didn't even make an album (laughs).
And the thing with this company is that they're so focused about trying to make an album exactly like what Automator and me did, they're just going crazy. You can go out of your mind. This new Dr Octagon, it's been so uncoordinated, it's been so much of a secret that I haven't even heard the album. They treated the album like it's a big medical project. They went to Africa, Cambodian medicine, and all that; they flew it over to Afghanistan, try to dissect it.
It's like, the industry can get so weird now, that they can take your vocals and just go ahead and fly 'em over to Africa. People are turning into chemists. They're really ready to take your vocals over to another country and put 'em on the operating table. That's the way this album has been going. And people ask me about it: I don't even know about the album as much as you do. And it's a shame that, you know, me and my publisher, we try to ask about it, they close the curtains and stuff like they doing a real big operation. God knows what may come out.
And I don't want my fans to feel like "did Keith have something to do with this?" I'm just like the fans: I try to tell people, it's like somebody takes your car out your garage, and they put it in their garage. And they say "yeah I'm doin' stuff to it" and you're like "lemme see it! What are you doing to it? Take the cover off it." And they're like, "I'm working on it man, I got some paint I put on it" and you're like "can I look at it?" and they say "nah, its not ready." And that makes you wonder, what the hell are they doing to my car? Then they say, "I want you to come over and bring some Armor All over." And you're like, "what are you doing in there?!" That's how the company is doing that album.
I'm probably the first guy in history, I'm quite sure that James Brown, Quincy Jones never went through that. I don't think there's nobody in the industry that went through a project that they never even heard.
You worked with Ice-T on the Analog Brothers, do you guys get along good and are there any plans to do more stuff?
Ice is not recording with me lately. He's doing his own TV show. I think really, it's fun to do collabos with people. It's interesting, but I enjoy working with myself. Cause with people, you can't do all the fun things you wanna do, you're kind of limited. Like, I go into the studio by myself and make seven or eight tracks. Every day. And I have a lot of songs already written, and I'd like to make them come true. So, I have a steady balance of both. The sample stuff that is my archive stuff, and the other stuff, distinctive beats totally.
What are you listening to right now? What's in the deck these days?
I listen to a lot of the stuff that I made a long time ago that sounds so ready to come out now. Like things that I worked on maybe a year ago and I hear it and I'm like "wow I made this shit?" It's like, time caught up with time. One thing about my music, is that, these [new] guys make stuff that is very, very short term. A lot of my stuff is timeless, maybe the elements or the way I combine all my music, like I feel that I can listen to "Spankmaster" right now and it still sounds future. These guys, you play their album and it's like "wow this shit is from the past."
Nowadays every kid in America and around the world wants to be a rapper, what advice would you give to a young cat just trying to get into the game?
Well, I took a survey myself, like a lot of guys walk up to you rhyming on the corner and the street and stuff. And I've been so shocked and insulted with the same style. Everybody, their first three lines is "I'm takin out my Glock." That's been the number one destroyer for me to stand and listen to you.
And I think, if I feel like that, I'm quite sure there's a million other people that feel like that. And it's like, that's getting to be the most monotonous thing now, the guy who never even comes outside.
See what happens, I think the influence of the industry is that, a lot of these guys who rap, they're killers on the mic and they're tough. These guys do not even come outside, these guys live in a witness protection plan, they live way out in different suburban areas with trees, big houses so secluded. They come on these cable stations and these television shows and the people think these guys are just in the street. They film one little DVD walking around McDonalds and a few streets, and the viewer get so hyped that he thinks this guys is actually living his life. He really thinks this guy is out in the streets grinding everyday, and a real tough guy, he just runs the streets. When little do they know that these guys are under some type of witness protection, living out in like Glen Oaks, Bubbleworth. They don't even come outside nowhere. But they are Glockin' it up on the radio; "I'll murder your mom, your dad, I'm coming to kill your dog and your cat."
It gets so monotonous that the new kids think that's the way these guys are living. So when these guys come on MTV and BET they magnify their life so far beyond themselves. Like, every tough guy that I know and heard that raps like that lives by my cousin's down south, with a watermelon, way back in the forest with trees. Nowhere near the city. The average tough guy rapping lives nowhere near the streets. But when you see them on MTV and BET you think they're very notorious.
So the kids are watching these guys thinking they're very notorious, then when they come out to get a hamburger at McDonalds they bring like seven big gorilla looking bodyguards with ten pieces all around 'em, just to do something simple. So, the new cats feel like these guy are really living like that.
It's like when you see "Spider-Man", you really think you're gonna pull a web out your hand and spin around New York City. To me, rap is just as sci-fi as "Spider-Man". These guys are rapping like they're massively destroying everyone, but at the end of the day they won't come outside to throw a pebble. It's so exaggerated, the companies have blown it up so much. I've been in LA, I've been in New York, and I see these guys, and the funny thing about it is you never see these guys just simply hanging out. These guys live the most horrific life, by ordering pizza. Dominos is their favorite. The guy that comes by, they know the delivery guy. They order subs, sit in front of the TV and watch the next guy talking thug, talking about their rivalry. At least wrestlers come out to wrestle. These guys just talk, go to the studio with eighteen bodyguards, go home, turn on the TV, and call delivery. It's an indoor thing.
It's like: why are you making records to stay home with a remote control in your hand, with five gorilla looking guys sitting around you eating sandwiches. These guys have big budgets and the record company pays for their witness protection program. It's like, "I'm hot, I rap about guns, but I hide." I've seen some of the top rappers, they are so timid, it's a shame. They're like rabbits. Ever go up to a rabbit to pet him? They're all shaking.
You look at Eric B and Rakim, I see Rakim hanging out by himself, I see KRS. All these people grew up in the projects. I've found that it's the people that don't live in the projects that rap about being in the projects. Ninety percent of these cats rapping like "we from the ghetto, we came from the streets, we went hard," they've always been suburban children. You can go down the list, do your background research. They all come from suburban areas. So at the end of the day they're all full of shit. They wouldn't hurt a cockroach in the corner. You're basically a hamster. You might as well get a Habitrail, spin on your wheel.
What else do you have on deck right now?
I'm working on my solo stuff. I've done a variety of things. I'm getting ready to do my soulful thing: I'm rapping over things that I never thought I'd do. I'm trying to figure out how I can challenge myself, like how can I rap over Bing Crosby. But not so deep as that. Also I'm thinking about other collaborations. Like I might go down to Brazil, try to do more uncoordinated collaborations, maybe like me working with the biggest Spanish artist. Me working with the top African bongo player. But coordinated them into a Kool Keith sound, not just changing myself. I have a lot of ideas that I wanna do.
Any last words?
I'd like people to look forward to the Diesel Truckers album, and I'd like to see people look forward to buying a lot of my solo stuff. Stay on my website, and look for "The 7th Veil" album as well. Ike Turner is a part of it. We're supposed to have Rasco, a lot of people coming to the table that are very interesting. I like to see a lot of collaborations that don't make sense, like the O'Jays doing a collaboration with MC Shan, or James Brown and Guru. That's my whole thing. I like uncoordinated collaborations.
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