Archive for the ‘Music Interviews’ Category

Sweet James

Have you ever thought of the meaning of the word trap? – Andre 3000

When Outkast brought the concept of the “trap” to mainstream ears back in 1998, little did the world know that over 18 years later trap music would be the defining sound of post-millennium Hip-Hop. Sweet James, a 25-year-old emcee hailing from southside Atlanta, is one of many young artists whose life experiences have been defined by the sound popularized by T.I. and also the real-life dangers that come with hustling in streets. But with other strong influences coming from such legends as Curtis Mayfield, Billie Holiday and the Isleys, James also views himself as an old soul. It’s these diverse influences that merge to create the unique, melodic sound that makes up his debut album Ain’t Shit Sweet.

In this exclusive interview with BeatsBoxingMayhem, Sweet James break down how he plans to use trap to elevate consciousness in music.

BeatsBoxingMayhem: With songs like “Matter of Fact,” “Wait” and “Pressure,” you have a melodic sound but not what most of us classify as melodic in today’s Hip-Hop. It almost has a 90s R&B vibe even though you’re spitting. This isn’t what we expect from trap music so what inspired this sound?

Sweet James: That’s what I like about it. I don’t know how it came about… I’ve been rapping. Like time, everything evolves. I feel it’s just me, I don’t feel like I’m trying to make a certain sound; it just comes out like that. It fits me — I don’t be on no extra stuff. I feel like if you’re in the streets for real, you don’t feel the need to talk about it and be flamboyant. It’s not anything to be proud of. No, you’re doing it as an ends to a means, because there ain’t shit else to do.

It is what it is. This is how we make money and survive. I feel that’s my vibe. I’m not no extra-ass nigga. That’s where [the album title] Ain’t Shit Sweet comes from. I don’t need to come through like “nigga I’m a kill you.” I feel I’m a boss, and niggas who talk like that don’t have that boss mentality. They’re still a worker. The dude from American Gangster had a suit and tie on and clearing a million dollars per week. I’m not talking about the corner because that’s not where I want to be. Niggas don’t have no guidance to understand.

That’s where I come in. I relate to everybody and I know what’s going on. I know why niggas are in the street. I know why niggas sell dope, why they got jobs — it’s all to pay bills, feed your family and keep a roof over your head.

I’m a very laid back individual. I like girls, I don’t like to be around a bunch of niggas. I done been locked up, I’m not trying to be around a bunch of niggas. I got a couple partners and that’s it. I like girls, money and cars. I’m not trying to be a destructive ass person.

If anything is going on illegal, it’s a means. No move is made without calculation. That’s why I “Wait” and ain’t quick to make no moves. If you listen to it for real that’s the whole song on “In My Thoughts.” [Recites lyrics] I might just tell ’em push up on me… Fuck that shit/Don’t need that press/ Don’t need that drama/I’ll sit back and count a comma

Fuck that, go count some money. You thinking about doing something stupid, go do something else. Don’t do it. Someone comes out flexing with a bag and wants something, he gotta wait because I don’t trust him. I feel the music has a message and I want people to take something from it.

BeatsBoxingMayhem: I read something recently that stated Atlanta’s murder rate is higher than Chicago’s. But based on the popular images portrayed in the music and media, most would think Atlanta is more of a party city as opposed to the dangers of trapping you discuss on “Be Safe.” Talk about the importance of illuminating the dangers of the trap that seems to be minimized these days in mainstream Hip-Hop.

Sweet James: That’s the whole purpose of music. You can take it all the way back to the Underground Railroad. They were singing their way through that shit. I don’t understand when niggas say the words don’t matter. Nigga, this was getting us to freedom! What the fuck you mean the words don’t matter? I feel a way about that because I take pride about what I say in songs. I refuse to be somebody just talking about nothing.

That may be too deep for someone but that’s the foundation of this shit. There wouldn’t be so many songs with the pain and emotion without it.

I’m wanna go in this bitch for the gusto. I ain’t trying to be no worker. The only way you end up a worker is if your words don’t mean shit.

BeatsBoxingMayhem: Even in 2017, there’s still a persistent stereotype that southern Hip-Hop, Atlanta in particular, doesn’t care much about the lyrics. In years past this has been broken in the mainstream by the likes of Outkast, T.I. and others. Does it need to be broken again?

Sweet James: I feel it’ll be broken soon. I feel like there’s so many clones out here that the originators of the styles can’t even be themselves. They have to reinvent themselves so quickly and it’s not happening organically.  I’m a fan of the game but I see what’s going on. Everybody sounds the same. I’m on that 4:44 heavy and Jay has a song talking about that on “La La Land.” That’s some real shit.

I respect the hustle, it got you on. But it sucks for the orginators. I will say this — all clones eventually fall to the wayside.

BeatsBoxingMayhem: 21 Savage recently stated that authentic trap music can only come from Atlanta. The actual sound that defines trap music with the 808s is pretty much a mainstream staple now for most artists. Being that hustling is also a universal thing in most hoods, does true trap music only exist in Atlanta?

Sweet James: Authentic trap, the real deal? You can only get the Coca Cola formula from one spot. Yeah, that’s us all day. It wasn’t a term until Atlanta made it one. That is down south music. East Coast has their sound and vibe. West Coast has their vibe. I mean, I could make a Bay Area song but would it be authentic?

There’s only one type of Kool Aid. The rest of that shit is flavor-aid.

BeatsBoxingMayhem: Let’s get to the album Ain’t Shit Sweet. How many tracks and how are you expecting it to be received in today’s climate?

Sweet James: It’s 10 tracks with no guests. Everybody that’s heard me says the same thing — the music is different. It fits this climate just fine. With these millions of clones, we need a different sound. I’m a real one, I know the power of what music can do. I can fill the void. That’s why I’ve made songs like “Be Safe” and “Wait.” I want niggas to think out here. Because if I would have, I wouldn’t have went through a lot of shit.

There is a way to make your shit fire and niggas still get a gem or two out of it.

BeatsBoxingMayhem: You spoke about wanting to be a boss. One thing about Atlanta is there are a lot of aspiring bosses but not a lot of folks willing to put the work in to get to that level. We see that a lot down here…

Sweet James: There’s a lot of “I can do this for you” people in Atlanta. But I don’t believe in saying I can do something for you and making you pay a dumb ass amount of money. I’ve done everything myself these people said cost xyz for way less money and the same quality. This is what I mean by a lot of fake bosses. A boss knows when they see potential and when they can use their connections for discounts. A boss will work with someone on the come-up and not tax them a crazy amount. A boss will not sell you empty promises.

I studied how the labels operate. What do I need a label to do for me? How does an album roll out? If I’m paying to get the album finalized, are we working as a unit? If you’re the boss, you’re supposed to be a leader and lead me to the other side. But if you have me out here by myself, is that a boss? A good boss is a leader and inspires confidence from their workers.

Even this interview, you’ve done your research and know the songs. I’ve sat with so-called bosses who want thousands of dollars from me and don’t even know my Instagram name. But you’re a boss? This is how you do business? That’s what made me say ‘fuck y’all’ right then and there.

A lot of these dudes claim they got keys and all they can open is the damn janitor closet.

I don’t talk a lot, I can peep game. I focus of what’s being said at all times. That goes back to my demeanor. I’m not gonna get all worked up. We’re gonna keep this shit all the way playa. There ain’t no bad blood, but I know just not to fuck with you.

I done took a lot of Ls. If I hadn’t, I’d of thought deals like that were sweet. It all goes back to thinking. They don’t want us to think or research nothing, just stay in a bubble. I want niggas to think. We do that and we can conquer a lot.

BeatsBoxingMayhem: It’s not a coincidence that a lot of best entrepreneurs and businessman in Hip-Hop came from the trap and were able to take those experiences and translate that into the legitimate world. That is also something you can argue is an American tradition going back to hustlers that came out of Prohibition like the Kennedys who finessed that into political mobility within a generation. 

How did you experiences mold you to be a better rapper and businessman?

Sweet James: It shows you how to read people and situations. It shows you how to see a snake or a wolf in sheep’s clothing. It shows you how to pay attention to details the average people will overlook. People forget you’re not supposed to do this forever. Yes, it can be a hypnotic lifestyle and addictive, but once you lose in the game, you start analyzing the pros and cons. Everybody loses. You then understand there is a better way to hustle without risking your life.

I’m not trying to be out here selling drugs. I did my dirt. I have things to live for and jail ain’t one of them. I’ve been to jail, I know what it’s like. It don’t feel good when you have 12 behind you. Family depending on you? You’ll do whatever when you’re about to lose your house.

The criminal lifestyle is just to get out the mud. A boost, a little leg up. You know what you’re doing is wrong. That’s why they say don’t snitch because everyone knows what the fuck they’re doing. You knew the consequences of your actions. And when you really know how those consequences can put you away forever, you move smarter with the money and look for a way out. This is not supposed to be a generational thing. Having generations of trappers is a no-go…and let’s throw 9-5s in there too because that’s a trap. A job is a trap. Going to a job every day that you hate. Can you leave? That’s what the trap is, you can’t leave that bitch.

This is why I feel there shouldn’t be any bad stigma on the word because everyone is trapping. Everyone has got up and said ‘fuck this job’ and went anyway because you’re trapped. It doesn’t matter what you’re doing to get money. You’re going to pay those folks off top to get that reup, that’s the taxes. So from 6am-3pm you’re trapping. That ain’t no life. How did it get like this? What makes sense about this?

If you’re washing dishes your son needs to own a restaurant.  What we’re doing now is not meant to be generational. It’s always supposed to evolve and get better.

Sweet James’s debut album, Ain’t Shit Sweet, hits all streaming platforms Friday August 25. Follow him on Instagram and Twitter. Shop for gear @iamtrapcheck.

 

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Lamont_Sincere_Above&Beyond

Lamont Sincere releases the visuals for his single “Above & Beyond.” Be on the lookout for a new EP dropping soon. In the meantime, keep up with him on Twitter @LamontSincere.

Above & Beyond – Lamont Sincere

Lamont_Sincere_Above&Beyond

Wyclef

Throughout his 20-plus years in music, Wyclef Jean has traveled the world. It’s rare that he finds a concert venue or major festival he hasn’t touched, but the celebrated Fugee experienced that very reality when his talents were requested at Jamaica’s famous Sting festival. Celebrating its 30th anniversary, the world-renowned reggae event has held seminal sound clashes and been known for an audience that’s notoriously picky about the artists selected (past weak performers have been bottled off the stage).

In this exclusive interview with BeatsBoxingMayhem, Wyclef talks about his approach to Sting 30, how he fits in with music’s current pop landscape, and of course, the status of the Fugees.

BeatsBoxingMayhem: Congratulations on getting the call for Sting 2013. How do you approach a festival like this as opposed to an American one?

Wyclef: I come from a sound system background, going all the way back to The Score. I love playing music before anything. Sting isn’t a festival you can just call up and ask to play. It’s an honor to be invited to and a tribute to an artist’s respect and creativity. With me, it’s like being back at Port-au-Prince (in Haiti). The real sound system energy I embody comes from that local energy that Sting brings.

BeatsBoxingMayhem: You published a biography last year, ran for president, and currently have a lot of volunteer work you’re involved in. With everything going on, is music still the center of your life?

Wyclef: Music for me is like drinking water. There’s nothing like catching that vibe with a guitar. Without that I’d literally be insane. My last full joint came out before I ran for office. The time is coming.

BeatsBoxingMayhem: We’ve seen before that rappers sometimes have issues with the Sting crowd despite the connections between Hip-Hop and reggae. If it gets particularly bad, the crowd has no problems voicing their displeasure by throwing bottles. Why is it that some rappers can’t connect?

Wyclef: It’s a culture thing. You can’t go out there and talk about your ‘bitches.’ There’s still a form of spirituality and godliness with the people. Most people from there know their Bible front to back. The best example I can give you is that it’s like entering a ghetto revival. It’s not about having a hit song — it’s about can you relate to the people, the basic demographic. Can you humble yourself?

BeatsBoxingMayhem: With your album being called The Carnival Returns, that implies it will have elements of the original. However, we know you like to throw curveballs with your sound. What can we expect with the new album?

Wyclef: It was good to see that I’m still relevant and people want to hear it. I was traveling when I made the first Carnival. This one is developing into something — of what I don’t know yet. I’ve been spending a lot of time in Stockholm [Switzerland] — it’s become a musical safe haven for me. I knocked out 30 songs in one week. I’ve been mixing up sounds with those sounds you’ve heard me use with Shakira, Wayne, Akon and Avicii.

Sonically is what I go for first. The songwriting comes naturally. I start with the guitar and fuse it with the synths and electronic sounds that are the norm today.

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BeatsBoxingMayehm: Let’s touch on those electronic and synth sounds you just mentioned. A lot of fans, particularly from our generation, have expressed their dissatisfaction with the “pop” sound of a lot of Hip-Hop music. Did you have you own similar “shock” moment before being able to adapt your sound?

Wyclef: It didn’t shock me. My DJ roots go back — I can quote records like Inner City’s “Good Life” that I hear in today’s music. A lot of these pop songs are just updated 80s British Wave sounds.

I’m a walking music library. Coming from the background of a sound system, I loved listening to all music. Anything that’s popping today, we can go back and reference it from the 80s and 90s. There’s always a reference point. We can listen to something and be like “Oh shit, that sounds like some Men At Work!” I never felt that shock, even when people were saying the lyrical content was changing. You still have Drake, Kendrick Lamar and Joey Bada$$. Hip-Hop can never die in the sense that what goes on in our communities, there’s always gonna be kids who rise and be leaders of that.

Yes, the sonics of radio changed, but I just felt it was going back to the beginning. Remember, there was an era when Hip-Hop and House were together. We called it Hip-House. So when I’m hearing Flo Rida, what’s the difference with him and some of the Jungle Brothers’ records? I can quote Jungle Brother records where they’re singing over the same house beats.

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It comes down to how much of a music lover you were of the complete culture and not just closing yourself off to one style of music. If your thing was “I’m underground and I’m always gonna be that,” then you’re in a very confused place right now. You don’t know what to do because the music is weird to you. With me, whether it was Kool & the Gang or Boy George, we sucked it all in.

That’s what my eight year old daughter does. She’ll go from Coldplay to Jay Z to the Fugees to Joey Bada$$. She sets it up herself like that!

Songs are not supposed to fall into the same space. People used to think if you’re no longer on the radio, you’re no longer popular. People would leave comments on my Instagram shocked that I was playing before sold-out crowds in Spain. The goal should be uniting people through music. Fuck the radio. Be worried about this teenage trafficking issue here, or the problems going on over in Nairobi. Stop worrying so much about your “brand.” What’s important is whether you’re moving history forward. All people are going to remember is if your were proactive in changing this world or not.

BeatsBoxingMayhem: New Jersey as a whole used to give strong and varied contributions to Hip-Hop culture. You had the Fugees, but also groups like Lords of the Underground, Poor Righteous Teachers, Redman and Naughty By Nature. Now, outside of Joe Budden, the representation isn’t there. How did Jersey phase itself out?

Jean: Honestly, Jersey needed to showcase more actual bands. Remember, we dominated for a minute with house music and Hip-Hop. The Fugees were a band. Kool & the Gang, another band. The other biggest problem was Jersey artists just lived for the time and didn’t put each other on. You knew with Brooklyn, when one got on, there were like 30-40 people coming behind them. With Jersey, a lot of artists just put on their friends and that kept everybody closed off. I seen that with my own eyes.

That’s why with The Score, we made sure to let everyone shine. That’s why you got the Outsidaz. You got Akon. John Forte got to rock. We made sure the talent was completely showcased.

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BeatsBoxingMayhem: Speaking of Jersey, being from there I mentioned to a few people I would be speaking with you. I got the same question from everyone and I’m sure you know what I’m about to ask.

Wyclef: [Laughs]

BeatsBoxingMayhem: So with that said, Pras came out last week and said he’s open to trying another Fugees reunion. At this stage of your career, and with everything that transpired in the past, would you even consider it?

Wyclef: I think when people ask that question they’re asking the wrong thing. I’m a Fugee. At the end of the day, Wu Tang is Wu Tang. This is part of us. That’s my gang and where I come from. We wouldn’t be having this conversation without that.

It’s not a question of would I do a Fugees album. I think the question people should be asking is our frame of mind. A Fugees album is demanded by a group of people who are in love with The Score. Are we in the frame of mind where we can create something that won’t be The Score, but can it be close enough to give people who reminisce that vibe? Are the three of us in that frame of mind? I don’t see that. Can we get in that frame of mind? That’s to be said. The first track is “How Many Mics.” Can I get on there and spit 48 bars? Yes. Can Lauryn do that? Yes. Can Pras do it? Yes. But will the energy be the same?

I think by now, the world has figured out exactly what part everyone played on The Score. When you go back you say, “Ok, ‘Clef was clearly the Will.I.Am of the Fugees. No one can take that away.” Lauryn was the soul and brought that other sound and style. No one can deny the fusion Praswell brought.

The thing is, there has to be a level of trust. The group has to let me do what I know how to do best, and let them do what they know how to do best.

BeatsBoxingMayhem: Thanks for your time today. Any final thoughts?

Jean: It’s all love. Check me out on Sting pay-per-view. It’s gonna be fun. Thank you, brother.

Catch Wyclef Jean at Sting 30 beginning at 8 p.m. ET on December 26. The entire 8-hour festival can be ordered via your local pay-per-view provider. For more information on Sting 30, visit http://www.bringthesting.com/Find out the latest on Wyclef by visiting his official site www.wyclef.com

For those who are only familiar with Max Kellerman from his current gig as HBO commentator/analyst for their Boxing After Dark and World Championship Boxing series, you may be surprised to know his love for Hip-Hop runs just as deep as his boxing passion. Back in 1994, a seminal year for ground-breaking Hip-Hop albums, Kellerman and brother Sam were signed to Columbia as the rap duo Max and Sam, dropping a video for “Young Man Rumble.” Nearly 20 years later, who does Max view as the greatest emcee of all time? Who’s career was the biggest disappointment? As the below interview will show, Kellerman’s opinions on Hip-Hop are just as bold and diverse as some of his boxing stances.

Beats, Boxing & Mayhem: Just on your gut instinct, is Hip-Hop as an art form doing better today than it was when you were making music in the 90s?

Kellerman: It really depends on the music industry and how it’s organized. When it’s wide open you have more creativity. I was arguing with [my friend] Marcellus about how many eras did the East Coast have, how many did the West Coast have? When did it switch eras? I still liked East Coast better at the time but they weren’t doing anything new. It was the same thing, derivative. It was great stuff but it was derivative stuff.

Then all of sudden we heard a new sound out of the West Coast. It was original and the era shifted. But I think, and my radio partner Marcellus disagrees, the era went back to the East Coast with Wu-Tang, Mobb Deep and Capone-N-Noreaga. All of a sudden you were hearing a new sound you hadn’t heard before.

And now the South. I haven’t heard since the South took over a new sound where you would say, “This is the dawn of a new era.”

I think it has to do with the structure of the business but I haven’t been in it in so long, [about] 20 years. I could not speak intelligently on how that struture is affecting the music that’s being made.

Beats, Boxing & Mayhem: I remember a few years back you compared Nas’ career to Mike Tyson’s. But we see Nas has been on quite the career run lately, something Tyson failed to achieve in his later years. Would you still place yourself in the camp of those critics who feel Nas still has yet to live up to his potential?

Kellerman: Hip-Hop is a young man’s game but it’s changed recently like sports. Older guys have hung on. But with Nas there’s so much water under the bridge. Are we supposed to forget Nas Escobar? When Nas came out it was “Look! G Rap and Rakim had a kid!” That was what it sounded like. He was going to be the greatest rapper that ever lived. When Illmatic was hot, when you asked anyone with a lie detector test or a gun to their head, it was Nas [as the greatest]. Emotionally, that was the impact.

C’mon, “In the building lobby/Probably couldn’t see as high as I be” All that stuff? It was like yo, this was next level…

But back to earlier, the derivative starts to make the original sound older, dated. So now whatcha got [new]? Because he didn’t follow up with something on [Illmatic’s] level… Look, when Tyson came on the scene, no one would admit it, but he would’ve been the favorite against anyone in history. Even guys like me who say Ali would’ve beaten him or George Foreman had the right style for him, bottom line is the odds would’ve favored Tyson. That tells you what people really thought. But it [his career] didn’t turn out that way.

Now, if you talk about the five greatest heavyweights, Tyson’s name does not get mentioned. It’s like around 9-10. This is why I feel he and Nas are similar. But the late-career renaissance for Nas, that’s a good look. Even “Made You Look,” how many songs are better than that? Ridiculous…

Beats, Boxing & Mayhem: Let’s continue on with the connections between boxing and Hip-Hop…

Kellerman: Black people!

Beats, Boxing & Mayhem: [laughs] That’s one. Why do think HBO’s attempt for a director Hip-Hop/boxing crossover with “KO Nation” flopped?

Kellerman: They were just trying to do something without really knowing why they’re doing it. Look, white people don’t really buy tickets to fights. Black people don’t really buy tickets. But, they’ll buy pay-per-views and watch it on TV. Mexican fans? They buy tickets. You can go into sociology or whatever, but African-American fighters post Sugar Ray Leonard people assumed there wasn’t a market for it because when we look in the crowd, we don’t see them.

Floyd [Mayweather] was the first guy to really come around and exploit the fact of it doesn’t mean they [African-Americans] weren’t watching on T.V. or buying pay-per-views. And once the event is big enough, doesn’t mean they won’t come out and watch either. Floyd Mayweather’s team was the first in a long time, maybe ever, to go out into the urban marketplace, which is a code word for black, let’s face it, and say “Hey, here’s an African-American fighter, interested in the same things the youth culture is, representing you, and is fighting. Oh, and he’s the best there is. You might want to check him out.”

They did a great job of galvanizing that population. Once it trickles out it becomes a big event. Dre and Snoop didn’t go five times platinum just selling to black kids. There were white kids in the suburbs watching and got interested.

Beats, Boxing & Mayhem: How bad is the damage to Mayweather and Pacquiao’s legacies for delaying and possibly not ever fighting each other?

Kellerman: Tremendous damage. They’ve damaged it because the fight’s not as big now as it would’ve been say 1-2 years ago because Floyd’s now seen as the prohibitive favorite, so that takes a little shine off. Floyd Mayweather is one of the three best pure boxers since the second World War: Willie Pep was the first, Pernell Whitaker was the second and now Floyd Mayweather. Manny Pacquiao is one of the best aggression fighters since the Depression really: Henry Armstrong, Roberto Duran and now Manny Pacquiao.

They’re fighting more or less in the same weight class and around their primes. Are you kidding me? I don’t want to hear it, fight! I do think  they will eventually fight because Floyd doesn’t fight unless he’s 100% sure he’ll win. I think he was watching Pacquiao a year or two ago and was like “Hmmm, I’m 70% sure I’ll beat that guy.” And Top Rank doesn’t want to kill the goose that lays the golden egg because it’s a very risky fight for them, especially if Floyd wins by a very wide margin.

The moment Top Rank thinks Manny will lose his next fight, the more likely they’ll make the fight. And when Mayweather is 100% sure he’ll beat Pacquiao, he’s likely to make the fight with Pacquiao. Those two things should dovetail so eventually we’ll fortunately get the fight. Unfortunately, by the time we get it, Floyd will be a substantial favorite to win. Not that it’s a bad thing if he wins, but you want a 50-50 type fight.

Beats, Boxing & Mayhem: Should they never fight, will this be another Jack Dempsey-Harry Wills situation?

Kellerman: Dempsey didn’t go through much when he didn’t fight Harry Wills. Dempsey wanted to fight Harry Wills but what was the upside for him? By the way, I don’t necessarily think Harry Wills beats Jack Dempsey. Maybe there was upside because you can play up the race angle but you can blame that on Jack Johnson. When you have gold teeth, smile at the white guy you’re beating up, marry white women and drive fast cars… he had every right to do it and I’m glad he did it. But, a black guy wasn’t going to get a shot at the title for a hot minute after that. Jack Dempsey was a killer; he didn’t care who he fought.

Beats, Boxing & Mayhem: Going back to Floyd Mayweather and your pure boxer praise for him, how do you think he’d have fit back in the Fab Four era?

Kellerman:  I never think of who beats who. That’s [who’s] better, not greater. Better and greater are two different categories. I’ll give you an example. One sport we can time with objective measuring is track and field. 100 meter dash, there’s no debate that Jesse Owens would be dusted by the tenth fastest guy in the world today. So the tenth fastest guy today is “better” than Jesse Owens. Better doesn’t apply. I don’t know who the tenth fastest guy is, but I know who Jesse Owens is. How did the tenth fastest guy do against his contemporaries today? What’s the average margin of victory?

Let’s argue the reverse for boxing and say it’s become increasingly marginalized in this country, and there were more fighters and trainers and therefore more experienced and better fighters 30 years ago, although the same argument was made in the 50s, I could reverse the arrow of time and say we might be getting worse. That’s fine, but still doesn’t mean you’re [today’s fighters] not as great. Just like it helps Jesse Owens, it helps Floyd Mayweather. Even if you want to argue Tommy Hearns was better than Floyd Mayweather; he’s 6’2, 78 inch reach, can knock down a building, he can outbox anyone, how can Floyd beat him? Let’s say I go with that argument. That means Hearns is better, not greater. How did Hearns do against his contemporaries, his chief rivals? Who were his chief rivals? I don’t think Hearns is going down as a greater fighter than Mayweather, even if you want to argue he was better.

Beats, Boxing & Mayhem: Do you think the idea of boxer’s skill levels becoming worse has credence by the fact the older fighters can hang around so long and in some cases still dominate?

Kellerman: They’re not as good anymore. [laughs] Listen, I subscribe to the same theory. Why have the two best heavyweight eras occurred in the last 30-40 years? It’s because people are getting bigger, right? From a larger population you get more competition and expect to see more good fighters. Well, in boxing a guy who walks around 180 pounds, the average American male, you’re gonna fight at 160. Back in the day the average male walked around at 160, he’s gonna fight at 135-147. So you notice a lot of great lightweight and welterweight eras back then. In the 90s with Bowe, Holyfield, Tyson and Lennox, and in the 70s with Ali, Frazier, Foreman, you see that at heavyweight.

The same thing applies to older fighters. When you have a huge pool of fighters you have more fights and therefore more experienced fighters and trainers. You had more good fighters fighting as you went back in time. Once you get to the 20s, 30s, 40s, 50s, you probably have the bulk of the best fighters… maybe 30s-70s. Maybe we’re now tailing off on the other end of that bell curve. There’s fewer fighters so it allows fighters like Bernard Hopkins to stick around longer. That said, right in the middle of the so-called golden era, you had Archie Moore doing what Bernard Hopkins is doing now so maybe I’m wrong about that.

I don’t think I’m being nostalgic. When I was a kid, the fighters in the 80s didn’t quite seem as good as the 70s. Maybe the 70s were comparable to the 50s, I don’t know. Greatest boxer of all time I’d say Sugar Ray Robinson, his prime was about 1947. Greatest baseball player of all time, Babe Ruth. His prime was in the 20s. Greatest basketball player of all time, Michael Jordan. His prime was in the 90s. So I don’t think I’m being sentimental about my youth. I think you look for greater, not better. But even if you look for better in boxing, I think they’re not quite as good now as they were a couple of decades ago when there was more of them.

Beats, Boxing & Mayhem: Speaking of Bernard, is there anything else he can do to add to his legacy at this point?

Kellerman: Oh yeah, he just needs to find the right guy. Listen, Chad Dawson would never have been the right guy for Bernard Hopkins. Not saying Bernard never would’ve beaten him, but a tall, rangy, athletic southpaw at 29 years old who’s a light-heavyweight? Hopkins made 20 defenses at middleweight. If in the middle of that run he moved up to challenge Dawson, he would have been the underdog. But if you put Bernard in against a wild guy like [Jean] Pascal, or a basic aggressive fighter like [Felix] Trinidad or Kelly Pavlik, who’s gonna come at him but in a basic way, he can make a good fight and still win.

Beats, Boxing & Mayhem: Can we put Tavoris Cloud in that category?

Kellerman: I think Tavoris Cloud would fall right in that category. At a certain point, the ring is going to retire you. Cloud would be a good test. Eventually he won’t be able to but based on his record he has a helluva shot to do it.

Beats, Boxing & Mayhem: One last question. Based on criteria we discussed earlier, who pops in your mind first as the greatest emcee of all time?

Kellerman: I think the greatest is Biggie…

Beats, Boxing & Mayhem: Wow!

Kellerman: Yeah, he obviously didn’t have the longevity. And maybe he would’ve seemed dated eventually, but the reason Jay-Z took over was because he filled a vacuum. When they were alongside each other, Pound 4 Pound, it was Biggie’s world. At his peak, as an overall emcee with delivery, live show, tracks, rhymes, the whole thing, Biggie just had a way with words that still sounds good. Hip-Hop doesn’t date great. It’s like comedy; it starts to sound old really fast.

Now over a whole career, how could you not give it to Jay-Z? Jay may be missing the things Biggie, Kool G Rap, Rakim and Nas had, which is genius of some kind, [but] Jay-Z is talking you into it. He’s studied hard enough. He’s a genius too and all of that but… When you see Magic Johnson pass the ball or even Larry Bird, there’s a little extra court vision of genius that if you saw Isiah Thomas pass the ball, he’s a great point guard, but not quite the same level of genius. Jay-Z is lacking that little thing, but he’s almost right there. He’s Hank Aaron in consistently. He’s not Babe Ruth, but he’ll get you 40 runs for 20 years and be the home run champ.

Beats, Boxing & Mayhem: Even though there was a lot of street nonsense invovled, do you dock Biggie any “greatness points” for not responding on wax, at least directly, to Tupac’s verbal challenges? Especially considering Jay and Nas went head to head…

Kellerman: Maybe… Tupac had more records because he started a little younger. It’s a matter of preference. From the East Coast you can recognize Tupac as being great, but it’s not like I was listening to Tupac records to tell you the truth. The beats didn’t sound right to me. I understand it was good music. There are pockets of people who swear by Tupac. But to me greatest emcee means lyrically, that’s what drives it. So early on it was Rakim and G Rap, then it turned to Nas then Biggie and Jay-Z at least on the East Coast.

Raekwon’s Only Built for Cuban Linx might be my favorite record or CNN War Report. Those were great records. I was dragged to a symposium on Public Enemy and these intellectuals were on stage talking about, “I remembering the first time I heard the driving beats of ‘Black Steel in the Hour of Chaos…” Yo, shut up! I don’t care about intellectualizing art! You either feel it or you don’t. There’s no objective standards to who’s the best emcee. Dirty on his first record was probably the best emcee because he was doing stuff that Nicki Minaj is doing now for female emcees. Is she like Roxanne Shante in her prime lyrically? But what’s that got to do anything?

Music is meant to be heard not read and you have a visceral response to it. It’s what you like and dig, not a criteria. And then you have guys like Big Pun who tried to rhyme every word with every other word to convince you he was G Rap. G Rap wasn’t sweating that though, he was just a genius. But again, my preference at his best, I’d say B.I.G.

Catch Max Kellerman on HBO’s boxing telecasts and during the week on ESPN LA radio with Marcellus Wiley 3 p.m.-7 p.m. on LA710 AM

“Ah, what’s up man?!” Murs greets me with a smile as we shake hands on the back of his tour bus. It’s late into the evening and he’s just finished a half hour set at Atlanta’s 2011 A3C Festival, the largest Hip-Hop event in the southeast. The year since I’ve seen Murs has brought some changes. Gone is the trademark wild hair. A new partnership with Dame Dash is flourishing, as seen by Murs’ new Ski Beatz-produced album Love & Rockets. The project, which dropped last Tuesday (October 11), caps an active year for the native L.A. native, who released the collaboration LP The Melrose in February with Terrace Martin.

Murs has predicated his 15 year career on the belief that truth is far more interesting than fiction. Instead of songs filled with materialistic fantasies, Murs’ style shines light on the joys and fears and desires of everyday folk. Find out why Murs is confident Love & Rockets is the inspirational music you’ve been looking for.

Beats,Boxing & Mayhem: You’ve worked with a lot of great producers before. With Love & Rockets, what was the creative process with Ski as opposed to say working with a 9th Wonder?

Murs: Man, 9th and Ski are totally different people. 9th and I work really quick. Ski isn’t as slow as some people, but he’s slower. He wants to make sure you’re happy with the beat. 9th will give you a beat and be like “that’s yours.” Ski is like “Ehh you like that? You sure? Nah nah that’s not hot.” That’s Ski, but we get there eventually.

Beats, Boxing & Mayhem: “Let’s Go” has more of a rock feel to it. “Remember 2 Forget” is more soulful. What type of sound would you say is dominant on Love & Rockets?

Murs: Umm, it’s hard for me to say. But for people who’ve heard it they say is pretty laid back.

Beats,Boxing& Mayhem: Would you say laid back like the Melrose project or different?

Murs: [Laughs] I’d say maybe like Melrose laid back but not as funny.

Beats, Boxing & Mayhem: You’ve always used bands before but we’re seeing a lot more Hip-Hop artists go that route. Its doubtful sampling will ever die, but do you think we’ll get to a point where sampling directly or looping from records becomes obsolete?

Murs: I don’t think it’ll go way; not as long as 9th Wonder is around. There’s some kids who just love it. There’s a certain feeling to it. If it does die down, they’ll definitely be a resurgence to it 20 years down the line.

Beats,Boxing & Mayhem: In the Love & Rockets behind the scenes web episodes, Dame Dash says it’s important to have a product out there and build a body of work over record sales. Does he give you guys a lot of feedback on the creative process?

Murs: He leaves us alone, man. That’s how the album artwork came about. When the artist came to me and I asked what I wanted, I said do what you want. The same way Dame gave us freedom, I wasn’t going to get involved in his drawing. You draw, I write. I let it fly just like the video.

Beats, Boxing & Mayhem: Considering his previous reputation from what was seen on TV during his Roc-a-fella days, did that surprise you about Dame?

Murs: Yeah, definitely a pleasant surprise. It gave me something to live up to in not judging people before I met them. You never know what energy that person was giving off at the time. You meet him and it was like that, but you never know what energy the person that’s telling you this was giving off at the time. You never know anything until you know it for yourself.

Beats,Boxing & Mayhem: Was there anything big behind you cutting your hair? That was one of your trademarks.

Murs: It was betraying me in some ways. I was blessed to have the opportunity to open for Ms. [Lauryn] Hill a couple times and people from the crowd were like “I didn’t think I was going to like you because your hair was all crazy. But I listened to what you were saying and it was really good.” It was like my physical appearance was getting in the way of my ultimate goal which is my art to be heard by as many people as possible. I’m not going to change my music to do so, but my hair is getting in the way? It’s hurting my neck when I sleep and takes an hour and a half to wash. I can let that go. It was time. My life had transformed.

I might grow them back. I’ve had locs on and off my whole life. That’s what people don’t know. This may just be another cycle. As for now, it gives my wife time to shine with her afro and her beauty.

Beats, Boxing & Mayhem: You still get recognized?

Murs: Nah, now I’m much more low-key. That’s a blessing. I like when I get recognized when people tell me I made their day. I don’t get to make people’s day as much, but it also stops people from spotting me a mile away. My nerves had got shot. People would be yelling out of windows and pulling up on the side of me. Yo, you’re gonna give me a heart attack, B. For now, it’s great.

Beats, Boxing & Mayhem: I heard the track where you’re tackling homosexuality. In Hip-Hop that’s one of the last frontiers as far as forbidden or unacceptable topics. What made you want to address it?

Murs: It’s for a lot of close friends and family that I feel may be or know are living an alternative lifestyle and don’t feel comfortable [telling me]. It’s not like I can go up to them and say “I know you’re gay, it’s ok.” I’ve been told by my friends that are gay that’s not the way you go about it. So how can I help them without being direct or making a song that’s corny and saying “gay is ok” or mixing my politics? I can just tell a story that promotes acceptance because there is so much going on with young people that feel life sucks so bad that they have to kill themselves. No human being should ever have to feel that.

It is just as bad as racism. What if black kids just started killing themselves because they were black? I don’t feel like its ok and I had to present it in a way where you wouldn’t hear it and argue with it. I want you to hear it and want to discuss it with someone else.

Homosexuality needs to be discussed in Hip-Hop. I’m not the most pro-gay person. When I see two men kiss it makes me uncomfortable. I have a hard time dealing with it. That doesn’t mean its ok for me not to let them get married because it is or isn’t unnatural. Whatever you feel, that’s their business.

There’s a lot of things that make me uncomfortable. I’d rather see two men kissing than a commercial for Dove’s body soap with girls with nice curves because that makes it difficult for me to stay married [laughs]. Not difficult but I’m trying not to even think about that shit and they use sex to sell everything. That’s one thing I think that should be banned. I don’t want to lust. I’m trying to keep my job as I call it. I don’t know what they’re selling half the time.

Beats, Boxing & Mayhem: Speaking of your wife, do you involve her in your creative process?

Murs: I do now but not in writing. I make something and I’ll play it for her. She helped me decide what songs to go with. She also validates me a lot. One song in particular she was like “how does it feel to have written something so great?” I’ve never had a woman like that in my life. That helped validate me and my decision to marry her. I know I’m with the right woman. I used to think that was super corny when dudes involved their girl in everything. She helped me decide how many tracks to put on the album and what order they should go in. I still disagree with that but I went with her opinion [laughs].

Music is such a big part of my life that if you don’t involve your significant other in it you’re never gonna fully connect. She has to know she has some influence on my art. It wouldn’t be complete if she wasn’t a real part of that.

Beats, Boxing & Mayhem: You put out a lot of product, but unlike a lot of people you do more albums than mixtapes. Do you feel there is a significant difference between the two?

Murs: Me and 9th tried with Sweet Lord to put out a mixtape and fans just weren’t really responsive to it. I’m blessed to have fans that want to buy. It’s crazy that I can’t get 60,000 people to download a record, but I can get 60,000 to buy it. I want to reach this young generation and get a million downloads or 300,000 downloads. But at least my fan base loves and supports me. That’s a good problem.

Beats, Boxing & Mayhem: Now for those younger heads or people reading this who’ve never heard a Murs track before, what can they expect on Love & Rockets?

Murs: Wow. I don’t subscribe to these terms but they can expect positive and conscious material. People always say “You rap? Who do you sound like?” I say Common and Talib Kweli but honestly I don’t feel my music is anything like theirs. I think it’s positive, inspirational and relatable music. You can expect something that will make you feel good and highly of yourself. I think a lot of rap makes you want things that you think are going to make you happy. Hopefully my record makes you happy because it’s good music and makes you feel good about where you’re at in life right now. Music is nostalgia. I want it to easily fit into your life and be a part of your memories. That’s the highest honor.

“Well life is an “unsober” experience. I would say we’re always under the influence of something…”

Since their debut in 2006, J*Davey has thrived by embracing experimentation and reinvention as their mantras. Their latest project, Evil Christian Cop, continued that tradition by showcasing everything from Nirvana remakes to searing R&B ballads. Instead of resting on their laurels, Los Angeles’ dynamic duo is using that EP is a lead-in to their long-awaited sophomore album, New Designer Drug (due out this summer). Now removed from major label constraints but enriched by the experience, J*Davey is prepared to reach the “next level” on their terms.

Beats, Boxing & Mayhem: What was the reason for the big gap between the Evil Christian Cop EP and the first Great Mistapes project?

Brook D’Leau: I think we just put it out when we thought it was ready. We don’t have a system. We only put out projects when we really feel like it’s time.

Beats, Boxing & Mayhem: The Nirvana remake is great. Did you guys have any apprehension with tackling it? You know when you remake a classic there’s heightened scrutiny.

Jack Davey: No, we don’t make music with worry. We just throw it out into the universe. When you start thinking about what you’re making it kind of deters you from making it to the best of your ability. We just covered the song because it resonated with us.

Brook: Everybody has a perspective on how they would have remade it. I think we did a great job with our own interpretation of it. It wouldn’t have made sense to do it just like the record.

Jack: That would have been awful. [laughs]

Brook: People don’t understand when you do a cover it’s not to sound specifically like the original. It sounds like J*Davey but it’s a Nirvana song.

Beats, Boxing & Mayhem:  What’s your favorite Nirvana album?

Brook: I’m gonna go with Nevermind because that’s the one I’m most familiar with.

Jack: Yeah, that’s probably the best one. The EP they put out [Incesticide] was good too and Bleach. In Utereo… it was ok. I’ve become more of a Pixies fan with older age.

Beats, Boxing & Mayhem: What’s the best thing you’ve been hearing in the music of your peers?

Brook: There’s a lot of genre-meshing. That’s always exciting in making that special gumbo of things that are unexpected. I feel like I’m hearing more of that but definitely not in the commercial vein. That’s a very small percentage of all the great music that’s out there.

Beats, Boxing & Mayhem: The West Coast has been under the radar now for years. Would you say that lack of mainstream attention has creatively benefited some of the regions like L.A.?

Jack: Definitely! It’s completely all our own and not taking any influence from anybody else. It’s creating trends and people are coming. L.A., we get a bad rap all around; it’s not fashionable to like L.A. But there’s something really undeniable happening out there right now. People are going to be forced to pay attention. It’s been happening for awhile.

Beats, Boxing & Mayhem: How was the creative process working with Blu?

Jack: It was so simple and organic. It was just as simple as us having something we want to hear him on and calling each other up. It wasn’t much more complicated than that, thank God. [laughs]

Beats, Boxing & Mayhem: You guys are free agents, but what did you learn most going through and coming out of that Warner Bros. deal?

Brook: We took the chance to see if it could work on that level. The biggest lesson was understanding what we want and defining that a lot more. I find most of the people who get lost in the shuffle don’t have a clear vision of what they want. You got a lot of opinions and hands in the pot. You can forget the reason you got signed is because they’re attracted to what you having going in the first place. They don’t put any money into grooming and developing an artist. They want something that’s already happening. They’re going to throw a lot of ideas at you that really don’t benefit your music but the business of selling your music.

We had a clear vision of what we wanted to do and got to work with a lot of great people. Being in that mix helped us develop our writing and production skills along with valuable experience working with people who sell millions of records.

Beats, Boxing & Mayhem: Would it be right or wrong to assume Evil Christian Cop is indicative of what the new album will sound like?

Jack: It’ll have elements but we never release the same of anything. We always take it to the next level with each release we put out. This one will be one step further. That’s our goal; keep progressing with our sound and development.

Beats, Boxing & Mayhem: Are there going to be any special guests on the new album?

Brook: There’s actually no big features.

Jack: Nope, no special collaborations.

Beats, Boxing & Mayhem: With social networking you get immediate feedback on anything you drop. What’s the line you draw between accepting valid criticism and not letting it have a say in your creative direction?

Jack: I don’t know how you can critique anyone’s art because it’s an extension of that person. How do you critique that? It really bothers me. Either you like it or you don’t and that’s as far as you can go. If you don’t like it we can deal with that. We don’t make our music for other people. We have no choice but to make it. It makes us. We don’t trip off that stuff. We read it [and] it goes in and right out.

Brook: Only thing I think that’s great is there’s a conversation about it. One person says I love J*Davey and one person says I hate that. We’ve already done our job. That means we’re invoking some sort of emotion and opinion in people. That’s all we ever want to do, to be potent enough where when you see or hear us, there’s no way to act like you didn’t and you feel a certain way about it. [laughs]

Beats, Boxing & Mayhem: Does J*Davey make better music sober or high?

Jack: Well life is an “unsober” experience. I would say we’re always under the influence of something.

Beats, Boxing & Mayhem: What’s the biggest argument J*Davey’s had as a group and how long did it take to resolve?

Jack: I don’t think we’ve ever had a big blowup we couldn’t resolve. We don’t agree on everything, but we’re two different people and know that. We meet in the middle as much as possible.

Brook: The agreement is if we disagree it doesn’t happen. In order for us to pursue this as a duo there can’t be anything we’re divided on. So internally if we feel different, we’ll put it on the backburner until we both feel the same way about it. We’re trying to make this an easy breezy experience. There’s no way I’m going to be in a band with somebody who creates drama and we have to argue and fight about it. We’re pretty calm and understand this isn’t about us and what me or she wants.

Jack: We always keep the bigger picture in mind.

Brook: As much as this is creative, it’s still a business. That element comes in when understanding the big picture.

Beats, Boxing & Mayhem: Jack, is it true you’re afraid of matches?

Jack: [uneasily] Yeah.

Beats, Boxing & Mayhem: Being that you always have creative tracks, have you ever thought about making that phobia into a song theme?

Jack: I haven’t, probably because it freaks me out so much I don’t want to think about them. [laughs] And I know if I did someone will come up with a video idea where I’m immersed in matches and I’m just dreading that whole idea.

Beats, Boxing & Mayhem: “Raincheck” is a great song and one of my favorites off the EP. How difficult is it to balance love with the careers you have?

Brook: Not too much. I think love is what motivates us to do what we do.

Jack: Definitely. Love should never be a struggle. And if it is it’s not your career.

Brook: And if it is a struggle, I don’t know if that’s really love. I don’t look at it that way [laughs].

Jack: I would say that love and sex are our two biggest inspirations [laughs].

Keep up to date with J*DaVeY as a group and individuals with their following Twitter pages.

J*DaVey:  @wearejdavey

Brook D’Leau: @BrookDLeau

Jack Davey: @jckdvy

I learned long ago to never depend on the record deal as your sole means of survival and expression. It amazes me that there are artists today who live for their record deal and nothing else.

A few months back, The Roots rolled through Atlanta for a Red Bull-sponsored “Battle of the Bands” against Shiny Toy Guns. The former’s highly-respected leader, Ahmir “?uestlove” Thompson, was gracious enough before the show to speak to Beats, Boxing & Mayhem on an array of topics ranging from President Obama and Jay-Z, to Amy Winehouse and artist reliance on record deals. 19 years removed from his first album, ?uestlove remains devoted to his craft of music before anything else. Retirement? Slowing down?  Those are not words in this man’s vocabulary.

Beats, Boxing & Mayhem: A lot of artists who have experimented with other genres say they do so because they get “bored” with Hip-Hop. Have you ever felt that way in your career?

?uestlove: Nah, Hip-Hop is a stew. It’s a mixture and amalgamation of all these other genres. Sort of like pop art during the post-Pittsburgh Warhol factory period, that whole “is it art?” era. I asked Afrika Bambaataa about when he was spinning all these breakbeats back at the Bronx River Projects with all these gang wars, and he said basically the breakbeats is what calmed them down. When you get to the drum part, just for like 10 seconds you had relief because the park was so funky. You weren’t thinking of robbing anybody. So he was always on a mission to find breakbeats just to calm people down.

Breakbeats was saving lives up there. Once he started throwing parties and just spinning them, that’s all he was concerned about, keeping the peace. He didn’t care where he found it. There’s a drum break on Archie’s “Sugar Sugar.” Can you imagine playing Archie, a cartoon group, for someone right now? They’d look at you like you’re crazy. But back then you could play “Mary, Mary” by the Monkees, “Honkey Tonk Woman” by the Rolling Stones, and “When the Levee Breaks” by Led Zeppelin just because they had a drum break. That’s what made them adaptable to Hip-Hop culture.

What’s happened is you have tastemakers and gatekeepers. Before 1992, the tastemakers determined what was cool. I had a tastemaker in high school that was like “yo, you need to check this out.” And it was a cassette called Straight Outta Compton. One dude recommended it and next thing you know everyone is jamming it. That’s the power of the tastemaker. Now the gatekeepers control radio and what you see on television. They determine who gets through the floodgate and they’re silencing the tastemaker.

I think people are feeling that totalitarian, oppressive pressure. I can’t describe it but it’s like a dictatorship rule in which one person or group determines what you hear. I go on the internet so I don’t depend on the radio to give me anything nutritious. Not saying all radio is like that, or I’m against commercial radio. I like Waka Flocka like the next dude, but I don’t want to hear it 20 times a day. I like variety. I like Foreign Exchange. I like Led Zeppelin. I like a little Ke$ha. Give me a little bit of everything.

Hip-Hop is mainly a tool of survival. Before, it was a creative art expression. When we came up making records, our first thought before anything was “when Q-tip hears this shit…When RZA hears this…Dilla’s gonna be mad…” That was my whole thing. But now your deal is all you have. If you’re dependent on a record deal, you’re thinking of how to not get dropped off the label. You’re thinking “I have to do what’s popular in the marketplace.” That’s when you get in trouble.

A lot of us are one check away from being messed up in the game. So there’s not a lot of risk-taking. No one is going to turn in the Hip-Hop equivalent of Pet Sounds or anything. They can’t afford to do that. They literally cannot afford to take any misstep in their career.

Beats, Boxing & Mayhem: Considering what you mentioned about labels, you’re currently on the biggest and most storied Hip-Hop one, Def Jam. And yet despite complaints from a lot of your label mates, you guys are doing well and getting albums out without the pressure of trying to craft commercial singles. How’d that happen?

?uestlove: They promised to leave us alone. I want to end this misconception that we’re all about making art records and that type of thing. I would love nothing more than for people to embrace what we create. We slave over this stuff. For every song you hear on the album, know that we’ve spent anywhere from 60-120 painstaking days over details from the quality of the hi-hats to every string arrangement and lyrics. We’re hurling chairs at each other. You can tell we care about our product by the way we present it.

The Roots can hold ourselves high above water without having a record deal. At this point, releasing records is a small reminder to people we’re still here. But now we have late night television. Anything that exposes us to a new audience I’m with it. But I learned long ago to never depend on the record deal as your sole means of survival and expression. It amazes me that there are artists today who live for their record deal and nothing else.

We’re dealing with the cult of personality. Take Jay-Z, for instance. He’s more of a business mogul on a monopoly board. It just so happens that one of his properties is that he makes records. I don’t see the monopoly board as Jay-Z’s recording history. I kind of see Mediterranean Ave. or New York Ave. as it, and he makes records as well. He has stake in a basketball team, a record label and management label. In New York alone, I can count 16 businesses he has his hands in. That’s the most extreme example I can give because he’s like Megaman.

You have to supplement your recording career with something else. Most people do acting. For people who just strictly make records and nothing else? I don’t know. That’s like living in a straw house knowing a tsunami’s coming in a week. Good luck with that one [laughs].

On the Political Debate about Education in America

?uestlove: I want to see what happens with education. Its one thing to say everyone doesn’t need healthcare. But I would like to see Republicans start denying our children a proper education. That’s when I think shit will really hit the fan.

The day after we lost the House, Obama gathered about 50 of us on the phone for a pick me up because a lot of us were now depressed over what it could mean. It could be a lame duck sort of term. I wish he would put a coalition together to actually teach Americans what the political process is. So when we do this again, they’ll understand that mid-term elections are just as important as the four year elections. That’s one of my passions.

On Working with Amy Winehouse, Jay-Z Debates and Genius vs. Maverick

?uestlove: She has to get her visa shit together. More than anything she’s a jazz head, between the 1930s and 50s. She’s a walking jazz tribute Smithsonian. She pretty much wants to do a collaboration album. It was me, Mos Def and Amy.

I believe how it happened is that a journalist from Rolling Stone happened to be in our dressing for the Fallon show doing a story about us, and he happened to see me Skyping Amy. And I guess someone told him we’re trying to do this project. That’s how that rumor got out we’re doing something with her and Raphael Saadiq. Then Raphael hit me like “I heard we’re doing a project together [laughs].” As long as she can’t come to the States, we can say we’re having the ashes of Michael Jackson join us. Ain’t nothing gonna happen yet because she doesn’t have her visa straight.

For all intent and purposes, all the parties have said yes. It’s just that none of us can go to her. She just thinks “leave your TV show for 3 weeks and come cut with me.” It doesn’t work like that. We got responsibilities, I have a 9-5 [laughs].

Me and Jay-Z has these Malcolm and Martin debates. I know that 50 years from now if I still have my Gmail account, all the conversations me and Jay have could be the most hilarious musical version of Malcolm and Martin. I’m trying to explain to him the difference between genius and maverick. He has guys like Stevie Wonder and Quincy Jones together with Kanye. The difference between you guys to me is that being a genius is the ability to think on another level from the average human being. But being a maverick is when geniuses can figure out a way not to ruin it.

Basically, geniuses are crazy and will always figure out a way to ruin it because they don’t know how to stay in place and be normal. They’ve got to figure out a way to self-sabotage it. Which is why they’re all the people you’re waiting for: the D’Angelos, the Lauryn Hills, Dave Chappelles, and Zack De La Rochas of the world. Anybody you’ve been craving that’s not made a record in 10 years. What’s taking them so long? I don’t think they even know or would characterize themselves with self-sabotage. It’s a sub-conscious fear that’s makes you psychosomatic or ruin it and not deliver product. The fact there’s a group of people who have genius and have delivered is great. That was a very interesting exchange we had.

On Balancing All His Projects

?uestlove: Basically 97% of my life is work-related. 3% of my life is personal related. The real question is when am I going to the alter and have kids? You always say ok, I’m 27 now. I’ll wait until I’m 30. Then I’ll wait until I’m 33. Then I’ll wait until I’m 37. And now I’m 40.  Now I’ll say 42. I don’t know. Right now with my life I’m totally devoted to working. I’m not doing it based on a fear of losing it.

In 1992 when we first started, I thought 1999 was far ahead and would be some Jetson, futuristic spaceship type thing. Now 1999 seems like its 1950, so long ago. In 1994 when Do You Want More came out, [if you asked] where are you going to be in 10 years, Amir? I couldn’t even imagine. I figured we’d be done by then. Most rap groups fall off after about their third or fourth record and stop recording. The fact we’ve been here for 19 years is mind-boggling.

With all 12 of our records, you at least know hard work was put into it. I’m not the biggest Arcade Fire fan, but after seeing them I totally respect what they do. Even if all 12 Roots records aren’t your favorite, you at least know we work hard. That’s important. You only get one chance in life.

I have so many stories of cats who were Jesus Christ back in ’94 or like ’96 giving us the Martin hand. One guy was like “What? You guys are a rap group? You want to give me your demo or something?” And this was like during the Things Fall Apart period. [laughs] Shit, even now! I was at a Saturday Night Live after-party, and an actor who was a little inebriated came up to me and said “You know what, you look important. You may be a regular person, but you walk around like you’re important.” I tried to explain who I was. He was like “Roots?! When that show came out, we all watched it!” That’s when I smelled the alcohol and I escaped.

I don’t imagine a finish line with this race. I run. When it’s time to stop, I’ll know. I can’t stop now.