posted: 10-14-04
interview : tadah
Okay, please introduce yourself.
Cirrus: What's up? I am Cirrus Minor, C-Minor, or just plain Cirrus if you want.
Nasa: Nasa of The Presence and Uncommon Records along with Cirrus on both counts.
What are you doing in the group?
Cirrus: I am one of the two emcees in The Presence.
Nasa: Producer and the other emcee in The Presence.
Any crew affiliations we should know about?
Cirrus: We just keep it Uncommon.
So where are you from?
Cirrus: I live in Staten Island, in N.Y.
Nasa: Staten Island, New York City.
How would you describe life in NYC?
Cirrus: Hectic, but at the same time, I wouldn't want to be anywhere else. I am used to and in love with the chaos of this city.
Nasa: It's trying being here sometimes, I'm definitely getting to the age where the NYC that I saw in "The Warriors" is becoming less and less the reality and I wouldn't mind getting out of here. That's not to say I don't love NY or don't rep it. I wouldn't want to be in any other city in the world. When I say out of here I don't mean far, but I'd love to have a house with a basement for a lab and some land for a yard. I've started to envy people that have those advantages a lot more than I used to.
Actually listening to your EP "Members Only", you mention the Twin Towers at least on "MayDayTop", but I think also in another song: is that due to you being from NYC?
Nasa: We mention 9/11 a lot in our music because it's the defining moment of our time. Cirrus worked in the World Financial Center right next to the WTC and my wife did too. Luckily neither of them were working there anymore at the time of the attacks.
I remember meeting up with both of them at different times, and cutting through the basement mall of those buildings all the time to get there.
My mom works at the Stock Exchange down the block, my mother in law was down there that day in the neighborhood working. I've had two different jobs in that neighborhood over the years myself. This shit is real. I spent many nights waiting for my wife to get off work staring at those buildings through the Winter Garden - a glass structure that provided a view up at the towers- intimidated by just the size of the buildings fearing their fall and respecting their architecture. When they fell it was like someone attacking a part of you, something so familiar. We mention the Trade Center whenever it's appropriate and in these times it's appropriate a lot.
Cirrus: Yeah, "MayDayTop" is my solo track. I mention the towers not because of where I live - though, working in the NYC is a constant reminder - but because when an event happens that changes your life, I think it's like therapy to get it out in any form. For me, it's my writing. Maybe for someone else, it's a picture or bumper sticker, but trying to ignore or forget it happened isn't healthy.
When I was in NYC in August, I walked around Ground Zero. One of the things that I found the most interesting was the mix of people: visitors and tourists that were standing there all choked up, and people hurrying by, as they work in the area and they walk passed it every day. Have you visited the site?
Nasa: I've been there a lot of times. I never made it a point to go there but I've been past there for different reasons a lot. The thing is, at this point and back in August it's just a construction site. Something happened there but the way it looks now it could be any site in New York. The first time I was there it was late at night. It still smelled like a smoldering building and the 'makeshift memorials' at the near by church were still there. I looked at a lot of the pictures of people and what was written for them. When I finished looking at the dedications I started walking and then from around the corner, almost bumping into me were these firemen with all their digging gear and full of dirt. I realized immediately that they'd just come from the site and just come from digging for bodies. It was really humbling.
The first few times and even one time recently it's been hard to be there, but I don't blame people who work there every day for just walking by now, because it's nothing like what it was. I mean I can remember being on Canal Street - about 30 blocks away uptown - and still being able to smell burning sut as much as almost 2 weeks after the attacks.
Cirrus: Yeah, I've been down there myself quite a few times. It definitely has a surreal feeling to it. Whether I went to see people who I used to work with at my old job, or was just in that area for other reasons, it takes you back real quick. I just think about how very possible it is that I could end up working down there again, being in construction. I can't predict how I would react to that, so I don't pass judgement on how anyone else reacts to being down there.
You do voice a lot of opinions, many of 'em political. How come?
Cirrus: It's part of life, and our music is a reflection of our lives.
Whatever shit hits me on a certain day, is what will be in my lyrics. Whether that's political, personal, about sports, movies my girl or my job; it will find a way into my rhymes.
Nasa: Politics is something that effects each and every one of us every day. Whether it's feeling like the bus fare is too high or your brother being killed in Iraq, it's all politics. We don't do one song about these issues, it's inherent and constant in our music. I think both of us spend a lot of time thinking about the war in Iraq and thinking about terrorism here in the States and I know there's got to be a lot of people out there that are the same way. These are the people that we are ultimately trying to reach. We don't preach in our music, we make art out of the topics of the day. We don't scream 'Vote or Die' and then put out music that does nothing but hurt popular culture. We're real about what we say.
Will you vote? Why?
Nasa: Absolutely, voting is really the only power you have to bring about any change in this country. If I talk to some one that didn't vote in the 2000 election and is angry about Bush or just has an opinion either way I basically don't care what they have to say because they did nothing to prevent it. I'm a political junkie so I vote in every election, primaries, local and national. I don't expect every one to do that, but if it's for the president and you don't vote you have no right to be angry about anything. We're not an anti American group just because some of our songs touch upon politics, so I feel that we're proud to vote.
Cirrus: Yeah, I always vote. I don't expect everyone to do the same either, and I know people who say there's reason for not voting is in a protest against the whole system. People who are actually informed on the issues. Unfortunately, that's not usually the case. More often than not, I think people don't vote due to laziness or not caring. And I think that's weak. I'm mad lazy too, but I can't see people not caring about something that can have a huge affect on their lives, so, I make it a point to vote.
Considering the rap audience: are you preaching to the choir?
Nasa: I don't know what rap audience you're thinking of, but I don't think so at all. Most rap listeners have little to no interest in the decisions that are being made that effect their every day lives. Our message isn't simply America= BAD. It's deeper then that, this is a grey world. We try to put facts in our music to give some knowledge to heads out there. I don't think it's our job to convince people of a one sided view. We try to get people interested in educating themselves about issues and making up their own mind.
Cirrus: I don't think so. we're expressing our views on different issues, not preaching to anyone. I don't think an audience who agrees with our viewpoint necessarily means that they are 'our' audience, just as I don't think everyone who listens to us agrees with everything we rhyme about. At the base of all of this is music first. Politics does play a big role in our music, but it isn't what I want people to be drawn to us for. If they can take something from what we talk about also, than that's great, but it's not our mission.
How can someone reach people that is not already agreeing with you?
Nasa: I don't think in this atmosphere in this country that many people will change their mind on where they stand on things. I think the people who come out on top are the people that add something positive to the discussion that both sides can listen to and take something from and then make up their own minds on it. And I'm not just talking about music there; it's true for journalism, movies, television, etc.
Cirrus: I don't know. I've never been one to try to sway ones viewpoint to mine. I hate being preached to myself, and don't like people thinking they can make decisions for me. I leave people alone with that.
What do we need to know about you?
Cirrus: Not much. I'm 26 now, and have been doing this shit a while. It's a challenge to constantly test myself. Flow-wise, lyrically. I'm my toughest critic - after nasa - and I don't want people to be listening to something I wouldn't bump myself. Like I say in "MayDayTop": I'm a concrete laborer. That's my job and it pays the bills, but this music is my life.
Nasa: That I'm proud to be a serious person and hopefully an educated person. In hip hop it's a real race to be funny and that a lot of times equates a race to the bottom. Planes hit the Trade Center, we are at war in Iraq. These things happened no matter how much you try to wish them away and aren't made any better by being the 'light hearted option' amongst a lot of 'light hearted options'.
Oh, I really like you saying that your proud to be a serious person. I really hear you on that; too many people get dissed and made fun of for being serious.
Nasa: I think that comes from people that don't take hip hop seriously. I come from the era of Public Enemy, KRS One and X Clan so being a serious hip hop artist is nothing new to me. We make serious artful music as best we can whether it be political or otherwise and we'll never run from that. Those artists that I mentioned came with intense powerful music that had messages for people in it, that's all we're trying to do.
At the end of the day we try to make dope hip hop, because if we don't no one will care about anything we're saying. We don't come with something political every time out, sometimes that side of us is just anecdotal in a song or not there at all. But no matter the subject we know we have to bring dope beats and flows to support whatever the subject matter.
Cirrus: Yeah, I think a lot of people out there are miserable doing their thing, and can't understand the balance. We make very serious music, but have a lot of fun in the process of creating it. I also don't think everyone gets what serious is. It's not being mad at the world, and angry music; it's more like a professionalism. Us taking what we do seriously means that we put everything we have into it, and wouldn't put out anything that's not up to our own high standards.
Nasa: Exactly.
Nevertheless, what would you like to tell us about you, that we probably don't care to know? (smile)
Cirrus: Hey man, I'm just a typical cat, with the same everyday problems as anyone else.
Just watching my Philly Eagles, schooling teams week by week. My other life, the Philadelphia Eagles.
Nasa: True, most people might not know it based on our joints but we're big sports fans. We rock jerseys cause we're truly fans of this shit. It's almost like a competition between us to get the illest jersey sometimes. We're both into Fantasy Football. Pacers & Packers to the death for me. Whadup Brett. Whadup Reggie.
Any other fun facts about you?
Cirrus: Nah, I'm boring. I'm unusually busy and bored at the same time. That's fun, no?
Nasa: Not really with me either.
We talked a little bit about the EP already, what else can you tell us about it?
Nasa: This EP centers around death. That's what most of the tracks relate too. Almost all of 'em approach it on some angle - except maybe "Razor Fund Remix" and "Calico City". We get into the fear of death, the reality of death, and death through war, terrorism and natural causes as well.
Cirrus: It's great. Really though, I'm fucking proud as hell of it. I think it's the best work we've done yet, and the other cats on it, are all really dope and added to the EP perfectly.
By the way, peace to Arc, Stacs Of Stamina, Centri, Digdug, Tek, Jerry and everyone else who helped in making this album. Vast and Alaska too.
Was it important for you to get the Uncommon roster on the record, as another introduction?
Nasa: Ah, you've discovered our plan. I definitely felt it to be important. I'm trying to build this label and if we were putting out a record by The Presence I wanted everyone involved on it so they felt like they were a part of it with us and so they could get some light for themselves.
Cirrus: Yeah. We are both The Presence and Uncommon Records at the same time. Cats wouldn't be on the label if we didn't think they were dope. So besides these cats being on the label, we are huge fans of their music. So it's a great opportunity to be able to make music with them. Y'all gotta watch out for all these cats.
Tell us what you hope we'll get out of this record.
Cirrus: I hope cats just look at music differently when they hear us. I hope it opens up their eyes about what can be done, and what dope really means. Just that it is something that you'll listen to and want to tell someone about.
Nasa: I want people to get used to our sound with this record. I want people to see that when we do a jam it's gonna be about something in particular. We don't do joints that are just joints. We have a mission statement with every joint we do and we have a quality control on everything we do. I hope that even if some one doesn't like what we do they respect us as musicians.
How do you guys work: is there a 'constantly working together' type deal, or a 'you do, I do, once done we get together' type deal?
Cirrus: I'd say about 90% of our writing is done together. Because we've been friends for so long, and we'd be hanging out even without the music. I'll just be at his crib, and he'll play me a beat, or we'll talk about a concept, and just start writing. We constantly feed off each others vibes. Compare lyrics, and critique them too. We are blatantly honest with each other about what we write, or when Nasa will ask me about one of his beats.
Nasa: I take a lot of pride in the fact that we actually do sit in the same room and write out the jams together as a group. I think that helps us to stay coherent and on topic and most importantly for me I just wouldn't want it to be any other way. To me if it wasn't like that we wouldn't be a group; we'd just be two cats on a lot of tracks together. When I write my verse for a jam I have immediate criticism and vice versa, that's how you really can craft tracks.
Let's say that a casual couch potato will not get everything you rhyme about. Are your lyrics complicated?
Cirrus: I don't think they're complicated. When I was young, I used to think it was dope to be abstract for the sake of being abstract. Making sure I wrote stuff that no one understood; stuff that I didn't understand. I've grown a lot, and now a lot of my lyrics have double meanings, but I think they're double meanings most people will get.
Nasa: When you start out that's how you think of it: I'm gonna flip some next shit or whatever. As you get older you develop actual talent, you develop the ability to tell a story or describe something in a way that no one else ever has. And if you lose some people on the way by doing that then so be it. The bottom line is we know what we're saying. As musicians you can't be clear and concise all the time or else you'll never say anything new.
What if people struggle to get what you talk about?
Nasa: I consider it my job as an artist to make people think. If I said everything to you in plain language then I could say everything that's on my mind in the span of three or four songs. Music is great because two people listening can interpret a song two totally different ways, that's what brilliance is to me and I think we need more of that right now.
Cirrus: Listen: not everyone will 'get' everything your rhyming about. Sometimes I'll rhyme about something that happened to me during the day. Now how would anyone know about that? I think it's all in how you present it. Some things I'll say are blatantly obvious, but stuff that is more personal, or worded more cryptically; you just have to make sure it sounds good and is flowed well. unfortunately, I know a lot of cats that don't even listen to lyrics at all. Just want to hear a dope beat. Well, we got that too.
What I guess all also boils down to you guys saying your serious people. Do you think that with that seriousness, you have also found an 'inner peace' or settled as humans or however you wanna describe it?
Nasa: Definitely. I've come to a point where I'm happy with where I'm at and I'm not gonna hide who I am. That's just me.
Cirrus: I don't know if it's the serious aspect, but I do know that my music settles me. I let shit out in my music that I don't let out anywhere else. I also put things in my music that I know I'll be able to take from at a later point; little reminders that help me stay grounded.
And heck, when do you get silly? (smile)
Nasa: Jumping around yelling at the TV while I play ESPN Football 2k4. Half the time I'm in the crib by myself talking shit to the computer team.
Cirrus: Yo, for real. He's out of control with that shit. just plain obnoxious. I like the game, but I only practice like mad at it to shut him up. He has problems.
I'm a little off in general. Don't know if that's getting silly. I'm calm usually, unless some M.O.P. comes on.
What was the last album/showcase/experience that had you go: man, I better step up my skills before I step out with something again?
Cirrus: "Telicatessan" by Rob Sonic. It's not to compete with him or any other artists, that got me. It's an influence.
The way I feel about what he did in constantly improving his music, is what I strive to do. The ability to release a classic album - "The Sanity Annex", then come back and make something even better. There are a lot of cats out there who are dope, but don't surprise me, or bring anything new to table. Like you just pencil them in for there dope joint or album, and then forget about it.
I haven't made any classic music yet, but I make sure to try to keep getting better. Keep trying new stuff. The day I start to level off or become predictable, or can't think of anything new to do, that's when I got to stop.
Nasa: I hate to say the same exact thing but I have to go with "Telecatessen" too. It really did intimidate me as an artist the first few times I heard it. It made me question whether my shit was as dope as this is. I haven't done that in a long, long time unfortunately. That's why I'm definitely happy we got him on our upcoming album, he hum, plug.
You guys are pushing your stuff on Uncommon. Are you both involved with Uncommon?
Cirrus: Yeah, we both make decisions everyday concerning the label. I'm always trying to come up with ideas with Nasa of what to do next. Uncommon is Nasa's baby, but I think it's mad work, and I try to help him as much as possible.
Nasa: It's a lot of work, from mixing music, to doing mailouts, to retailing all the way to the small stuff like printing labels and making copies it's more than full time work. We're dedicated to making this happen and I think we're off to a good start and all this work will pay off.
What else is coming on the label?
Cirrus: Mo music man. There'll be The Presence's full length album. An uncommon compilation. Stacs album. Arc's album.
Music by alot of other cats down with the label: Centri, Digdug. We meet new cats all the time that want to work with us. Hip hop is just worldwide. To be able to make and put out music with people I have never met is incredible.
Nasa: What's coming is, a label with a roster of talented cats that are making music that they love. A label that is dedicated with providing a voice to progressive hip hop that pushes the envelope and entertains in an artistic way consistently.
Is it important to you to introduce new cats, rather than work with established folks?
Nasa: I like working with established cats, but as far as the label, I think it's part of our mission to break new artists. I think it's important for the health of this music. A lot of underground hip hop is the same old cats over and over again. I'm a firm believer in the fact that the best hip hop is out there being made right now by a kid in his room that has no way to put his shit out.
Cirrus: Like I said earlier, we are as much fans of these cats as anything else. So, it is fresh and new to us, and we just want to relay that to the public. I hope all these cats we work with blow up.
And you mentioned the album: what can you tell us about that?
Nasa: The album is called "Common Man's Anthems". It's how the common man - and woman - have to live in a world that is constantly bombarded with fear and war. We hope that this album speaks for them and deals with what's on their mind. Anthems for the common man. It's got production form Arcsin and El P, the rest are by me. We also have Aesop Rock, Rob Sonic, Masai Bey and Karniege on there.
Cirrus: He basically said it. Just a look into the everyday life of a common person, and how that's reflected back out at the world.
You must have a website, right? What is it?
Cirrus: Yeah: www.uncommonmusic.net. You'll get all your info on the label and the artists on it. Audio's up there, and it will be updated regularly.
Nasa: Event info and news on the artists are updated about once a week, so keep checking back.
Okay, before we wrap this up, three things: Nasa, being a married man, what's the secret for a good marriage?
Nasa: I don't think there's any one secret. Everybody is different and every relationship is different. When you're happy with each other, you know what to do to for each other to make each one of you happy, and that breeds happiness. That becomes your 'secret'.
Second, let me try this, just to get you guys to be a little silly (smile):
- What's your favorite Posse Cut?
Nasa: I'm a huge posse cut fan. Let me just say here and now that every album release on Uncommon - from emcees - will have a posse cut on it. With that said: Old school: tie - "Scenario" [A Tribe Called Quest] and "Protect Your Neck" [Wu-Tang Clan]. New School: tie - "Fires In Which You Burn" [Company Flow feat. J-Treds & Breezly Brewin] and "Same As It Never Was" [The Weathermen].
Cirrus: Yeah, posse cuts are dope. Different voices next to each other you ain't used to hearing. I'd have to say "Scenario" or "Fires In Which You Burn" myself. Or maybe "We Are" or "Nu....", nah, y'all gonna have to wait for that one.
What's your favorite reference to sports in a rap song?
Cirrus: Damn, there's a million. How about, "I don't know his name, but he aim like Wayne Gretsky, that's funny cause I don't play hockey, I play horse on the mic and watch them all copy". [Vast Aire on Cannibal Ox feat. Alaska & Cryptic "Atom"]
Nasa: Damn, that's a good question, I wish I had a good answer. There's been a lot that have made me stop for a second, but I just can't think of any off the top of my head.
What was the last song you illegally downloaded?
Cirrus: Haven't.
Nasa: In my world it's much easier to go to the store and buy a CD then to figure out all the illegal shit.
What's your favorite video game anecdote?
Cirrus: Not sure about that one.
Nasa: Strike two for me, wish I had answers to these.
What's your favorite street in NYC?
Cirrus: Houston: always liked how it was pronounced different than the city.
Nasa: I honestly don't have one favorite. I've gone through fazes with different streets depending on what record store was on them at the time.
What's your favorite meal in NYC?
Cirrus: Something involving fried chicken and mozzarella sticks.
Nasa: It's hard to vote against a New York City slice of Pizza.
What was the last movie you walked out of?
Nasa: I never walk out of movies, just on principal. But I will warn the world right now save yourself from "Open Water". It is the worst movie of all time. I can't believe I paid ten dollars to see that horse shit.
Cirrus: Same here: I'll never walk out of something I just paid ten bucks for. But if I did, it would be "Catwoman". Hey, my girl wanted to see it.
And third: final comment and shout outs?
Cirrus: Yo, thanks tadah. Cool talking to you. peace to all my Uncommon heads. Peace to Nasa. peace to anyone listening to our EP right now. I'm out.
Nasa: Peaccccce!
The EP "Members Only" is in stores now.
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