OK, here is finally the English translation of the interview with Squadda B from Bay Area underdogs Main Attrakionz – one of the worlds’s hungriest, most interesting rap groups at the moment – that I made some time ago. Felt good to salvage some of the Bay Area slang butchered in the translation to Swedish, too.
Before you continue, I recommend that you download and blast this exclusive track that Squadda B sent over to the faithful readers of Brytburken:
There’s something in the water in The Bay.
Main Attrakionz’ mutant rap from the past few months is a logical continuation of the cyborg music that Rick Rock, Droop-E, DJ Fresh and others have unleashed from Bay Area 51 in recent years – but as much as the Bay Area ignores how the rest of the country think that hip-hop should sound, as much 19-year-old Squabba B and Mondre Man ignore regional conventions. They flow as comfortably over Alchemist instrumentals and screwed out 80s soul as the thundering 808:s of their native city. Or like in their youtube meisterwerk Legion Of Doom – over little more than distorted cut-up indie pop vocals. (After ten-fifteen listenings I realize that something is missing: snares, claps. They have removed number two from the classic one-two Boom Bap formula. Everything is on the one. There’s just boom left. Has this even happened before?)
It’s easy to argue against the combination of smoking weed and making music when listening to a Main Attrakionz tape – the standards suffer at times. But without a blunted aura of couldnt-give-a-fuckisms it would perhaps be impossible to travel through these keyboards and backstreets like a late Amercan Pink Floyd.
Sometimes they make me think of The Piper At The Gates Of Dawn, sometimes Dark Side Of The Moon – and sometimes they switch mode halfway through a song. Young As Fuck begins as a melancholic coming-to-age tale over spastic drum patterns and a childishly chopped piano-loop (Syd Barret of the early Pink Floyd singles is definitively in the building), and three minutes and 26 seconds into the song someone cocks back a shotgun, and the mightiest piano chords hurl the listener a thousand feet in the air. Booming kicks blast us further away from Earth’s surface, and behind the constantly expanding piano frenetic claps and hi-hats lift us higher up, up through the clouds.
“I kiss the concrete, how much I love my turf … So many niggas died around here you think this bitch done had a curse (…) As I look out my window, I smoke, blunt in mouth. I’m stupid high, feeling like a bullet couldn’t beat me, feel the world is mines… the world is mines ”. I’m stupid high, feeling like a bullet Could not beat me, feel the world is mines … The World is Mine “.
With its net-only compilation 3 Years Ahead, Space Age Hustle launched the term “cloud rap” last year to describe an aesthetic common to “a lot of new artists singularly focused on stepping outside of rap’s comfort zone and doing what they want with beats and lyrics “. The meme is a fit. On Legion Of Doom Squadda B (who produced seven of the collection’s sixteen tracks) even raps that they “stay burning weed on top of clouds”.
The Bay Area seems half-forgotten in hip-hop history. Names like 2pac, Too Short, Spice-1, Digital Underground, Mac Dre, Souls Of Mischief and E-40 have not been able to etch Bay Area 51 into mainstream consciousness like The Bronx, Compton or The Dirty South have.
“Oakland has more houses than apartment buildings, but there are like apartments every two blocks. One housing project in the whole town but every apartment building think they’re the projects. Every block think they the hardest”, says producer-rapper Squabba B, like rhyme partner Mondre Man from North Oakland – ”same side as Mistah F.A.B. and Money B from Digital Underground.”
“We’re between Berkeley and West Oakland. F.A.B. came to our middle school signing autographs when we were young. Nobody’s repping for us except a couple rappers on Livewire records. I feel like we’re gonna inspire a lot of others, not with our sound but just with the fact we’re getting on big websites and are listened to around the world. They’re gonna be like ‘them niggas?’ Yeah, same niggas you seen walking round doing lord knows what.
Me myself, I’m fucking with D.B. The General, that man can rap. Whole Mob Figaz, me and Mondre grew up on them, they’re the best. Sleepy D can rap, it’s exciting to hear him, always exciting to hear Lil B. My man Deezy D goes in. I just like people who can rap. I don’t like too many Bay rappers, niggas is boring, but if you can rap AND entertain me I’ll be a fan. Messy Marv is one my favorites, the early Mac Dre, E Da Ref, Macblast, my Green Ova niggas. I could live off Too $hort, he got boring to me in these recent years but $hort drop too much game in his lyrics. You’d be a fool not to listen.
Yeah man, Cormega is one of the best who doesn’t get talked about. I’ve been listening to Nas all day the past three days. He’s got classics, released and unrealesed, for years. Prodigy is my favorite out of QB, Noreaga in there too, Mazaradi Fox more recent. I relate to them.
When did Main Attrakionz meet and start to make music?
Carter Middle School. We were in a four man group, but we were the only ones focused on rap. We started writing songs together. The first instrumental we used, recording straight to tape, was 50 Cent’s In Da Club that was the hit at the time.”
It is easy to interpret some of this year’s newcomers as an arrival of Punk to Rap. Energy has become more important than technical sophistication. Three chords, three punchlines, a laptop with cracked music programs and file-shared sampling material. Twitter, YouTube and Tumblr replace record companies. Like the Punk movement after Mail Art and fanzine culture, a return to a musical essence comes after the emergence of a new DIY Network.
“My cousin Floyd Waybetter came to Oakland to buy Reason and he put it on my laptop. This was two years ago, taught myself how to use it and the rest is history. Main Attrakionz needed beats.
What equipment do you use?
It varies from FL Studio, Pro Tools, Reason, any keyboard – nanoKEY Korg, Korg SP-170 – but at first all the beats I made were just on a computer. First beats that rappers would hop on was made with no keyboard except the one we type on.
When I listen to your music and watch the videos, it seems like your attitude is more to hang with your family and make dope music, than doing it for the fame and the money.
I’m glad you see that, we’re really family orientated because without this entertaining us and keeping us motivated we’d be out here doing other things. We have played with fire and know that life can be taken from you quickly. I just wanna make history because I know we have all sorts of talent. We’d be assholes to do the same thing everyone else is doing. The main goal is showing that if I can change hip-hop, so can my fam. I don’t gotta be bigger than everyone but I do gotta be better, cater to my fans better.”
If dub is a studio method, then rap music can be understood as 20-year cycles of experiments in musical synthesis, that is, rap-musicians make new music of the songs they heard when they were born. Marley Marl loops James Brown’s early funk-anthems. 70′s soul and dark psychedelic rock and horror movie soundtracks are reborn in Pete Rock, RZA, DJ Muggs. The 808-scenes of the 80s find their way to the regional club and street music of the 00s. And during the first year of the 10s, the techno music and indie rock of the 90s is filtered into rap.
Jackie Chain scores a hit over Robert Miles’ pop trance classic Children. In Sweden, I see Adam Tensta, Lazee and Lorentz & M. Zakarias letting eurodisco out of the closet and into rap. Aphex Twin was sampled by Kanye West recently, while someone plastered a carbon copy of the Brit’s patented drill n bass sound onto Nicki Minaj’s debut album. And on The Illest, Clams Casino – who with his dreamy, damn-it-sounds-like-he’s-sampling-indie-rock productions is behind some of Main Attrakionz‘ and Lil B’s best songs - asks El-P and Droop-E who’s the illest at flipping a Björk sample.
“What are you and Clams Casino cooking up?
A really good album. Something that you will remember for a really long time. Full length free LP in 2011. It feels like where I’m from the people who aren’t used to change instantly reject it. I’m bringing best of both worlds, their voice with Clams’ sound. Clams is one of the best producers out here, so I’m really trying to satisfy my supporters. Never a dull moment with me.”
I think of indie rock group Slowdive when I listen to Main Attrakionz: effects oceans, low mixed, half mumbled vocals, structural openness, music that you find your own way through. Blurred and hazy, no shiny suits here, backstreets and grey skies instead of hotels and paradise beaches. My brain skips a beat when I hear a sample of Jean Michel Jarre – someone the young Oakland-musician claims that he only listens to for samples.
“But a lot I’m starting to listen to for pleasure. It’s mostly indie rock; some stuff I can’t pretend to like. I’m a beatmaker, I feel like its my job to listen to more than everyone else. I got one iTunes full of rap and another one of anything else but rap. Lately I’m listening to everything, some of it motivates me to take rap further, like ‘why can’t we be like them?’, and some just for samples, so I can’t name them specifically.
Beach House‘s Teen Dream is a good album. I havent heard anything else from them but their song structures are unique. I was a big fan of Rancid so when Transplants came out I was really happy. With ‘other’ music its like ‘sky’s the limit’; you got Rancid, Blink 182 and a rapper named Skinhead Rob making an album together and it’s good music. You are not gonna see The Dream, Alicia Keys and David Banner make a album together. Since beginning of time they were the trendsetters. Maybe not ‘our’ music but it’s quality music.
The first songs I ever sampled were Yeah Yeah Yeah’s I’m Rich, No Doubt Don’t Speak, only because I listen to that shit and wanna take rap melodies to that level. So it’s a ton of artists who inspire me in one way or the next. When Lil Wayne came out with the rock shit it was hella corny and wack to me. I just felt like it was stereotypical rap/rock fusions. I don’t like rock, I like melodies and words. I go to rock because they have the balls to make nine minute songs with the last four minutes being just synths and drums. I download and buy albums from a lot of sub-genres not just ‘rock’, some fall into electronica, some fall into ‘other’. I just want to take it to where they wouldn’t know where I get 50% of my imagination and motivation from, if they didn’t read this interview. I make it my own sound.
How do you feel the response to your music has been so far?
Everyone who hears us likes it. Some aren’t used to it but they grow to love it. I feel like most doubt us though. I’m not mad, we just gotta prove we really are who we claim we are. We’re the best out here so we gotta represent better than everyone else, we won’t stop improving. People who have been down since day one will be made proud.”