Archive for October, 2010

Von Pea Interview

October 23, 2010

I’m proud to be a fan and personal associate of Von Pea, having run in the same social circles for over a decade now. When we were about seven years younger we chased after two girls who were sisters prior to even meeting, and when we got older we were dating sorority sisters without even knowing it for a while. It’s crazy how one of my favorite rappers was just a normal regular dude to me this whole time.

My bias aside, even if I didn’t know Von I’d be a devotee as he’s dedicated his career with Tanya Morgan and as a solo artist to continuing a brand kind of Hip-Hop a lot of people like to say is dead. Adept lyrical ability, flows, the duality of thoughtful topic material and a fun spirit within his music (he’s no slouch as a producer either), all the while making it all seem effortless. Though he takes a page from the Posdnuos/Q-Tip book of humility, Von took the time to be provocative in speaking about his biggest pet peeve with rappers amongst other topics such as his just released long awaited solo debut Pea’s Gotta Have It and his appreciation for swagger based raunchy rap songs.

I’ve been following your career pretty much since the beginning, after all the side projects by yourself and with Tanya Morgan, how does it feel to finally have a solo album representative of your vision?

After Brooklynati came out I felt like I’d made the album I been trying to make forever. We made that album at the same time I was making this solo album so that’s the best part; I spent the past few years working on my first real solo album and working on what ended up being the ideal group album for TM. I don’t even know how to feel really. It seems like people like it so far and I just want it to continue to spread. I don’t expect a whole lot, slow build!

On Pea’s Gotta Have It, songs like “The Yorker” and the album’s outro feel like anthems  for New Yorkers and for grown folks suffering daily struggles respectively, and “Somethin To Do” (from the So Motivational mixtape) is dedicated to people working jobs while chasing their dreams. What made you start doing these types of records with a greater reach?

I’d always hinted at these songs about NY and more specifically my experiences growing up here. On the Further Adventures of Von Pea mixtape I had songs like “Options” where I spoke about being from the hood. That’s a part of my life but I prefer to not glorify it and instead be honest in my lamentation. Some of us deserve better but feel like we can’t get it, and some of us are just hopeless and don’t care. The “tear this shit down” hook on the outro is actually saying tear the projects down. It’s supposed to be a panic/destructive hook…like “Yo, this shit is a trap, tear this shit down!” I know a few people that live the story on the outro so I wanted to do something for them.

On the flipside, a song like “Somethin To Do” is for the legal struggle. As an artist I know many creatives that do the 9 to 5 thing while wishing they could just go do them. That song was my way of throwing support their way. I can rap and people know that (laughs) so at this point I want to do more. Making these songs is my way of speaking for certain people.

You wear the hats of both MC and producer, sometimes simultaneously. Talk to me about the creative challenges involved with both, and do you prefer one over the other? If so, why?

As a producer your job is much harder. Think about it: if you’re an in house producer you submit beats to your artist. You may give them 20 beats and they pick the few they like. As the vocalist, does the producer pick from 20 of your rhymes? No! These damn rappers (laughs), they pick through your beats like a clearance sale bin, then they go with whatever rhyme comes to mind. If i worked with cats that do that punch-in freestyle shit some of these artists do I’d never give them beats. If i took a month to make this track and you cant have the decency to write an actual rhyme? Hell nah.

I prefer being the MC and I’m the MC 80 percent of the time because that comes more natural. At the same time, it’s easier to get ahead as a producer. S1 produced Kanye’s single “Power” but Strange Fruit Project wouldn’t have been able to submit some rhymes like “Yeah Kanye, add a verse to this and put us on your album”, you know? I might be able to make a beat for Lil Wayne but he wouldn’t call Tanya Morgan up like “Yeah I like those verses you sent me, I’m gonna put those on my album”. I jokingly complain about the producer side but in ways its better than MCing.

As someone many people consider a highly skilled  MC/producer, I’m sure you have a well trained ear for both. who is your favorite MC and producer (outside of The Lessondary) at the moment and of all time and why?

My favorite mc right now is probably Blu. Common, Posdnuos and Black Thought can fight it out for my all time favorite MC. My favorite producer right now is Oddisee without a doubt, my all time favorite producer is Dilla! Ever since Mad Skillz’ From Where album.

With the way the culture often reduces women to video girls, groupies, gold diggers and the like, your album has guest appearances from four female MCs, a song produced by a woman and this summer’s “Fancy Nancy” lectured fellas on how to go about approaching women in public. How do you feel about the overall treatment of women in Hip-Hop?

Before my album was anywhere near done I had a discussion with a woman about how I wished “femcees” were just seen as MCs that just so happen to be women. Rapping isn’t like sports, I wouldn’t want to see a woman box a guy or a guy dunk on a woman, so shit being separated there is okay, but in Hip-Hop this shit is an even playing field. Lauryn Hill was one of the best MCs ever, not out of female MCs, MCs in general. Rah Digga is one of my favorites ever. Sure they’re women but I really don’t get why that matters…if you’re wack you’re wack, if you’re dope you’re dope. The only time it matters is if you have a crush on the female mc you’re working with, and that’s a matter of professionalism.

The women on my album all made it up there naturally. Keisha Shontelle was called on to sing but she also ended up killing it with a verse and i kept it. I asked Uzoy to speak on the woman’s behalf on “There U Were” and Rapsody and Josie Stingray added a woman’s touch to the topic of being a sneaker fiend on “New Pair” because I’d never heard a sneaker song done from a woman’s perspective. Jamie Cooley is a producer I know from the Myspace days and she sent me the beat for “Ahead of the Class” out of nowhere one day. I told her “Look, I need this beat!” It all happened naturally though, I didn’t set out to make a statement but if one was made that’s what’s up.

Your music takes a stance on the type of Hip-Hop you want to bless the world with. But who might people be surprised to find out that you enjoy listening to in your spare time?

Lil B. It started out as a joke but I’m not ashamed to say i love songs like “Swag On My Dick” and “Suck My Dick Hoe”. I don’t know why man…the shit is just mad entertaining. I obviously like the Hip-Hop that my music is categorized with, but I fuck with based god. I just do and people get offended when they find out! Sheesh. I love The Free Design too. “Kites Are Fun” and “My Brother Woody”, joints like that. They have great harmonies.

(l to r: Donwill, Lil B, Von Pea photo courtesy of Meka)

I read another interview you recently did where you said you feel that your verse on PGHI’s “Dreams” is the best verse you’ve ever done. I’ve heard this song a few times and honestly I’m kind of lost as to what you were going for. Can you break it down for me and other listeners who might find themselves confused?

I wont explain it too hard because that would be like explaining a joke, but each number is a bar. 16 bars personified at a sweet 16 party.

You’ve gained a lot of respect from your peers and elders you looked up to before your career started. Who would you like to work with that you haven’t yet, whether producing for them or collaborating on a song together?

Cool Breeze from the Dungeon Family. I’d love to produce a song of his, his first album is one of my favorites. Also I’d love to do a Tanya Morgan/Diamond District song and a Tanya Morgan/Pac Div song. Those two songs would break the internet for a few minutes (laughs) there’s a lot of people though, it changes daily.


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Aeon & Brian Brizzo Interview (Part 2)

October 22, 2010

(photo courtesy of Mikey Mcfly)

For Part 2 of my discussion with Aeon & Brian Brizzo we got more in depth regarding their craft and their future aspirations now that they have a foot in the door.

Characteristically speaking, what do you look for in the artists that you work with?

Aeon: People who are good. That’s really it. Whatever you’re doing, you know it well, you know your talents and your limitations, and you work within those parameters to create something dope. I like people who let me be myself, trust me, and work with me.

Brian Brizzo: I have to be able to vibe with you musically, professionally, and personally or it won’t work. I don’t give a damn if you sold a bajillion records. We don’t gel, we don’t work. I want to be able to work with someone who’s open to criticism and feedback for better or for worse. To able to kick it outside of the studio and grab a pizza or a cheesesteak and just talk about random things is a plus as it harnesses the creativity.

Who would you most love to produce for and why?

Aeon: I’d still say Jay-Z is the holy grail for Hip-Hop producers. I’d like to work with Jazmine Sullivan a lot, I’d bring in a big band and do some really creative songwriting/production to get her off that pop stuff for a moment! I think she hasn’t been pushed, and she sounds so amazing when she really opens up and lets it blow. I think it’d be crazy.

Brian Brizzo: The first name on my list is Mary J. Blige. I have a damn CD labeled ‘Mary’ with about 25-30 joints for her! (laughs) Anyone that knows me knows how much I dig and love Mary’s music. Ever since I started producing, I always said that someday, I’d produce for her. I’m dreaming of that phone call. Jay would be 2nd. The Blueprint album was one of the albums that changed my entire life. But who doesn’t want to produce him or send him a track? (laughs) Ghostface is the next one, plus Little Brother and a slew of others.

It would seem your big moment has arrived now that Pea’s Gotta Have It is finally out and people are buzzing about records like “Thanks For Your Children” (prod. Brizzo) and “Good Life” (prod. Aeon). Talk to me about your experiences working on the album.

Aeon: Working on PGHI was an exercise in patience and resilience. Due to some serious equipment issues at the beginning of 2009, there was a considerable waiting game between Von and I that lasted for months. Between his album and Donwill’s Don Cusack In High Fidelity, we were all really tested. Aside from that though, it was fun. I’m heavily featured on the album as a producer and I enjoyed that role.  Having so much respect for what Von can do on his own, and what guys like Brizzo and Brickbeats can do, that he jumped on so much of my work was a huge boost for my confidence in my production abilities. To be sharing space on an actual release with those guys is an honor in itself, that Von reached out to Brizz and I was just another testament to Philly’s unsung heroes.

Brian Brizzo: Working with Von was a dope experience. He’s a real cool dude and funny as all get out. The beats that I did on PGHI were old, Von had most of those songs demoed for a minute and he’d pass them off to get my feedback. Whenever he’d hear a joint on a CD I’d send him, he’d hit me up and ask me if it was available. I’d lace him with no problem because I knew he’d do it justice.

You guys run in such similar circles, have you ever thought about making music together?

Aeon: We haven’t talked about it at length, but I’m sure it’s bound to happen. It’s really just a matter of proper logistic planning, and having a moment to set aside for personal exploits, when you have a lot of people interested in working with you. We’ll get there!

Brian Brizzo: Work with Aeon? Man, I’d love to! Only thing holding us up is our schedules. But trust me if the stars are in alignment, it’s gonna happen. He’s an extremely talented producer/MC.

Aeon, you’ve recently gone for schooling in recording engineering, what was the impetus behind this addition to your arsenal?

It was a choice I made just to educate myself further and do what I can to develop the professionalism of my sound. I love dirty music like the old Wu-Tang records and Madlib, but I have an equally healthy appreciation for that clean sound, and I know that being able to exhibit that duality only makes me more indispensable. Also, my core studies like music theory and piano have only broadened my palate for ideas when it’s time to build a track. I always try to push myself to learn more about what I’m doing, that’s the only way we get better at what we do.

What else do you have planned musically over the next year?

Brian Brizzo: Aside from celebrating PGHI which just dropped, Che Grand is gonna start working on his second album, so I’ll be doing some stuff with him. Then there’s Tanya Morgan’s next album and albums from Lessondary members Elucid & Spec Boogie. There’s talk of a Lessondary Album brewing but we’ll see. I have my fingers crossed and I’m down to do it if need be. I’ve also worked with Aul Purpis & Fat Nice of Philly’s 84 crew, Tanzania Lateef, Baby Blak, Nico the Beast, Persia Sound and I did something w/Zilla Rocca recently.

There’s an undisclosed project that I can’t really speak on, but it’ll drop sometime in the spring of 2011. 2ew Gunn Ciz and I are talking about doing another Designer Drug 2 project, but that’s up in the air right now, so we’ll see. Finally, my own personal project which is just gonna be a labor of love type thing, so it won’t be released until I feel like it’s ready. But don’t worry, it won’t be a Detox-like wait (laughs)

Aeon: I have an instrumental album I’ve been working on for the past few months that’s in the finalization stages, and another that I shelved due to those technical difficulties back in ‘08 that I’m thinking about reviving. I’d like to find a legitimate home to release the former project through, and the latter will probably see light of day via Bandcamp. After that, I have submissions for projects with local giants Dave Ghetto and Fel Sweetenberg, hopefully another joint with Tanya Morgan for their next LP, this Lessondary album that could rip the universe in two if we ever get out of first gear [laughs] and my own little Soul Survivor type project that should be the springboard for a ton of new and big things.

Though still relatively new to the game yourselves, your skills have been honed and polished. What advice would you give to someone who wants to become a producer in regards to the business aspect and the process of creating music?

Aeon: Spare no expense to get better. If you need a class, a tutor, whatever it takes to increase or refine your skill set, do it. Always be open to improvement, as you are your product. Also, learn the business side for yourself, it’s really easy to get screwed just by not being informed about what you’re owed. Nobody values creative material like they used to anymore except the people creating, so nobody’s gonna push themselves to make sure you get what you deserve for your hard work. But the information is out there so protect yourself.

Brian Brizzo: Read, read, read!!!!! Get as many books as you can about this business! Learn as much as possible. Experience is best teacher, but knowledge is the best professor. If you have to, take a course on how this business works. There’s so much I’m still learning and it’s overwhelming, but if you wanna be successful from a monetary aspect, read and learn as much as possible! Please! From a creative standpoint, no matter what anyone tells you, stick with what got you here. Stay true to yourself. Do not, I repeat DO NOT let anyone try to change your sound or tell you what or who you should sound like! DO YOU! No one is gonna believe in your music like you anyway. Learn how to separate art from commerce, it’s hard to do and few succeed at that. Once you know that, the ball is in your court. But I’m still a student of music and a work in progress.

Aeon & Brian Brizzo Interview (Part 1)

October 16, 2010

(l to r: Brian Brizzo, Aeon)

Amongst the throng of Philadelphia’s up and coming Hip-Hop producers, Aeon and Brian Brizzo have studied their craft to a point that approaches mastery. Both frequent collaborators with the Lessondary crew (Tanya Morgan, Che Grand, Elucid, Spec Boogie, etc.), Brizzo’s humility wont vocalize a disapproval of DJ Khaled’s claim to make movies, though cinematic is one of the first descriptors to come to mind with his beats. Aeon delivers atmospheric grooves that set the tone for an expansive array of moods, a notable example being Brooklynati’s reflective “She’s Gone”. Steadily grinding having prepared a long time as contributors to Von Pea’s solo debut Pea’s Gotta Have It (finally touching down this Tuesday October 19th), Aeon & Brizzo got with me in this two part interview to shed light on their careers and aspirations.

Part one serves as a basic introduction for those who may have heard the names or enjoyed the songs without having background info on who they are.

When was the moment you knew you wanted to make music?

Aeon: I can’t pinpoint an exact moment, but I can say without a doubt that it occurred in the months following my purchase of Slum Village’s Fantastic Vol. 2. Around that time, I had been energized heavily by the movement happening in my own backyard here in Philly, with the Roots playing a part in almost all of my favorite artists’ music during that time, the seed was definitely planted that year, around 2000.

Brian Brizzo: I knew from the time I was a kid that at some point in my life I’d be involved in some form or aspect of music. So it was something that consumed me all of my life.

How long have you been producing and how did you get your start?

Aeon: I started teaching myself beat production techniques in 2002, I got my start by just immersing myself in different computer music mags, since I knew the traditional routes of production machines like the MPC, ASR10 or SP1200 weren’t particularly cost effective for me. I got my hands on a free version of Samplitude and later Fruity Loops Studio, and around the same time my brother purchased a Triton LE 61 key workstation.

Brian Brizzo: It started in 1999 when one of my closest friends came back from Job Corps. He was making these tapes of his beats he recorded and would play them for me when he’d come home on some weekends. When he came home for good, he said to me “You know what? You should come by and record some stuff, man.” Eventually, I went over to his crib and it became an addiction. So one day, he gets evicted from his apartment and he had no place to keep his equipment. So he told me to keep it at my house and use it until he found a place to stay. I sincerely believe in Divine Intervention. All of this was God’s way of telling me “This is why I put you here.”

Who have been your major influences as far as other Hip-Hop producers and producers or musicians of other genres, and what influence did they have on your style?

Aeon: It goes without saying that Dilla is probably the biggest influence on my music, ever. He’s the reason I ever wanted to make a beat. Some of the things he did when even just chopping up a sample were absolute genius to me. A close second would have to be Pete Rock and of course, in that same vein, you have producers like Premo, Madlib, Just Blaze, The Neptunes, 9th Wonder, etc. Guys I will eternally look up to as the reason I’m doing what I’m doing, and who I will continue to check for inspiration. Outside of hiphop, I’d have to go with classic guys like Quincy Jones, Arif Mardin, Teo Macero, Creed Taylor, guys whose discographies can answer any questions.

Brian Brizzo:  DJ Premier has influenced me a great deal, he invented the NY street sound Hip-Hop wise. The name Quincy Jones speaks volumes, he’s a producer’s producer and he’s touched damn near every sub genre of Jazz and just about every genre of music you can possibly think of. He’s everything I want to be.  Jerry Peters, true musician personnel heads know who he is. He’s played keys and has done orchestral and vocal arrangements some of the 70’s and 80’s best and slept on albums.  Leon Ware is a genius, I learned so much from his work as I’m a sucker for minor chord changes and he’s the master of them. He’s written so many Soul/R&B classics that it’s stupid.

Amongst every other hungry producer out there, what do you feel separates your music from the pack?

Aeon: I try different things, but I try to keep a few principles in tact- strong melody, big drums, head nod factor. I’m rarely gonna just loop up something. I think ultimately, you’ll never listen to a song that sounds like I mailed it in, and that’s all I as a listener would ever want from producers/beatmakers today. I try to bring that myself, and that obviously would set me apart, if I’m successful in my endeavor.

Brian Brizzo: To be honest, I really don’t know, man. People just gravitate toward my sound and love it. It’s really no different than what any other up and coming producer is doing. I guess you can say you hear my individual heart, soul and love for music and you won’t get that that from anyone else you hear.

What does the equipment in your production setup consist of?

Aeon: When it’s at full tilt, I use a self built PC with FL studio, a turntable, a Macbook Pro running Logic, Native Instruments’ Battery 2 & 3 and various plugins. A small keyboard and a metric ton of records.

Brian Brizzo: A SP-505(which is like my brain). Casio WK-3000 Keyboard, a MPC 2000XL which I use on occasion and a bunch of records.

Who has been your favorite artist to work with so far and what has been your greatest memory in making music with them?

Aeon: Tanya Morgan, no question. My favorite memory is winning the Myspace Music/XM Radio contest in 2007 with them [with the song “Walk Your Way”].  It was a great moment for me that felt validating. Che Grand is a close second.

Brian Brizzo: Without a doubt, Che Grand. He’s the most talented person I’ve ever worked with so far. He has this talent and gift that no one can quite put their finger on, but you just know he has ‘it.’ He thinks and rhymes like how I produce and make beats. That’s why we hit it off every time we collaborate.  We recorded “Swing” in a shop that sells smoothies in downtown Queens New York on a hot ass Sunday afternoon it had to be like 95 degrees that day. Von Pea was with us that day and people were walking by watching me bang on my 505 like something was wrong with me, it looked like I was having conniptions. In order for us to use their WiFi connection, we had to buy smoothies. (laughs)

Stay tuned for Part 2 where Aeon & Brian Brizzo look to the future now that their impacts are being felt.