【English】Tek of Smif-N-Wessun exclusive interview. Solo Album, Dah Shinin’, Each one teach one
Interviewer, Writer: Kaz Skellington（渡邉航光）
Hip-Hop Classic Albums
What albums would pop up in your head when you hear the phrase “90s Hip-Hop Classic”? If you are a hip-hop head, I’m sure Smif-N-Wessun’s Dah Shinin’ would be somewhere near the top of the list. Smif-N-Wessun has been in the rap game for about 25 years they are definitely one of the finest Hip-Hop duo to ever come out of Brooklyn.
They are a part of the NY supergroup Boot Camp Clik, with Buckshot, Heltah Skeltah and O.G.C. Their career started out by appearing on Black Moon’s Enta da Stage in 1993. Since then, they’ve been one of the most influential artists from Brooklyn, collaborating with artists like 2Pac, Pete Rock, Raekwon, and Styles P.
We had a chance to talk to Tek of Smif-N-Wessun when he came to Japan for his new solo album “Skin on Trial” and we were blessed to be able to ask him questions for about 2 hours straight. He is releasing his album via PLZ, which is an app that allows creators and users to share their experience during the project. http://parallelz.co.jp/
Tek of Smif-N-Wessun (@Juice Bar Wave Tokyo)
➖We have Tek of SMIF-N-WESSUN in the house.
Tek: Representing Bucktown fo’ life
➖ Thank you very much for coming to Japan! It’s an honor to have you here and being able to interview you in Japan.
Tek: Thank you for having me here.
➖ We should start off with your new album “Skin on Trial“. We actually have the music video of “Skin on Trial” playing right here. Can you explain what the song is about for the Japanese fans?
Tek: This is the 1st single from the project Skin on Trial. I don’t know if yall have been following the news out here but there’s been a whole uproar in New York about police brutality and how it was going crazy. They were just beating young black men and Mexicans and all of the minorities up just for no apparent reason.
By the time we started on working on this project, there were so much going on, and the police were doing so dirty and so wrong there was no justice. It was injustice and pain for the families and I thought it was something that needed to be addressed as Tek of SMIF-N-WESSUN. It was time for it.
➖I noticed a lot of footages of the police brutality that has been going on through out these years and the one that really stood out was the footage of Martin Luther King Jr. where he talks about the peaceful and creative protest. Because it’s been such a fucked up situation, some artists choose to put out songs in more of an aggressive way. What was your message behind the scene?
Tek: Well, I can’t really speak for every other artists out there because as an artist, you grow into your expression and you express yourself different from the others. That’s was makes every artists great and that’s how you grow as an artist. Sometimes it’s hard to evolve because a lot of the times, the fans only want to hear you one way. Some artists may have a body of work where they have 7 to 10 studio albums and then you hear some fans saying “Naw you shouldn’t have done the album like that.” So it’s hard for artists to come out of that box.
You can create your art in many different forms where it’s real to you, and it comes off to the audience like that if it’s coming from the heart. Sometimes it may be anger. It’s time to carry yourself each and every way of life. Sometimes you don’t have to be so rude and so mean to get a person away from you when you are talking with an intelligent mind. They gon be like “Oh damn, I thought you were some animal” and you can throw up their whole game plan on how they approach you. Now once you hit em with that, you can play offense and defense with your music. It’s just about your artistry and developing and just putting it out there to the people.
➖I wanna go back to around 94 or 95, is that cool?
Tek: Let’s do it.
➖The album “Dah Shinin” is considered to be a 90s Hip-Hop classic and I believe it is too. How do you think the content of your lyrics has changed since then? Looking back at the “Dah Shinin” and to the new album.
Tek: Of course my mindset and the lyrics changed. We were literally still kids when we did “Dah Shinin”. We were still in highschool and we didn’t even know how to count bars or how to create choruses. All we knew was that we wanted to make music.
Coming from my hood, all we saw was violence and negativity so we thought that was the cool shit to do at that time. Being at the hood, getting the bitches, getting money, traveling around the world…that was it. But as you mature, you start developing your mind. You start reading books and seeing different people with different ideas. Your whole conversation becomes different now. So it’s like when you’re a kid, you play with the kid toys and when you become a man, you put them down and do manly things. You have to evolve all the time or you will find yourself left behind.
But not only did our lyrics change, the music industry and the business has changed also. There were so many labels that got gobbled up by the bigger labels that you couldn’t be independent no more. You couldn’t own your masters no more. So you either had to fight the power, or sign a different kind of contract and not be able to put out an album, while living the “Shelf life”. So if you aren’t adapted to overcoming those obstacles, you were fucked up basically.
Now we have whole new artists and producers coming out everyday. Back then, there were none of this computer or technology so as an artist, the fans knew distinctively who you were. Nobody was sounding the same. There were competitions but everybody respected each other.
➖ Dah Shinin’ had like a NY street vibes and I thought that album made me feel and imagine the Brooklyn back then.
Tek: Nah man, if you’ve never been there, you can’t imagine the place. Even Treach from Naughty By Nature said “If you’ve never been to the ghetto, don’t ever come to the ghetto. Stay the fuck out of the ghetto”
But nah, if you’re an artist, whether you rap, produce music, or paint pictures, you should make it something on your bucket-list to travel far outside of your city and your comfort zone. When you see more, you learn more and your pictures or your lyrics become much more deep. Your painting a picture that’s more vivid for a person to feel like they’ve experienced the same thing as you.
When you move around and do different venues, we meet people like that. A person might come up to me like “Yo man I appreciate your music. It got me to pass a bar to become a lawyer” or like “It got me through 25 years of hard Jail time” and when I hear those things, I still get goosebumps till this day. It’s like damn. It’s like job well done if you can reach out and help somebody live or move on with the thing they wanted to do. As an artist, you want that feedback.
➖ Man, that’s really inspiring. I think we all love the Hip-Hop culture and we try to make a part of our lives like how I try to spread it in Japan. And it’s a trip just being able to talk to somebody like you.
Tek: See yeah it’s goosebumps haha. But it’s dope though. Even coming into the music business, just to use that as an example. I think the young artists, all they care about is the money, women, and the fashion part of the craft and I don’t think their mind is set on the inspiration/motivation part. Like I don’t really think their mind is set to giving inspiration and motivation to the next generation. Because when you come from the urban areas or the hood, a lot of the mentality is crab in a bucket. It’s something like “I’m gonna just get on and shit on this next ni*ga and I aint gonna lend no hand”, but we were never on something like that.
That’s why Bootcamp formed Bootcamp. Like Black Moon got on first and they reached back and got Smif-N-Wessun. Smif-N-Wessun got on and reached back to Heltah Skeltah. Heltah Skeltah reached back and got OGC. That’s how everyone was “Each one teach one” and showing them the ways to focus on their dreams and aspirations.
It’s like when Shyne used to say when he was making his album. Puff locked him in a room and threw him 2Pac and Biggie records and that’s how he came up with his own self as Shyne. Even the world’s greatest boxers like Mike Tyson studied the legends before them.
➖ First you guys were featured on Black Moon’s Enta Da Stage album. After that you’re song Bucktown became an underground hit. What is the come up and the grind mean to you?
Tek: The grind for us was really crazy. Just to go back to the previous question, social media plays a big part of the Hip-Hop nowadays. Back then, we had nothing and no one handed us anything. So we worked hard for everything that we got. That’s why I respect the grind. A young and upcoming artist or an entrepreneur might reach out to me for an advice via Instagram or Twitter. It’s cool to answer that and work with people because I respect their grind, coming from nothing trying to get something.
Like I said when Bootcamp was together, we would reach out and help each other because there was nobody reaching back to us. No one was there to reach back and help us so the grind is daily. People think “You made it” once you get on with a deal and they start spending their money. But when you get the deal, that’s when the real blood, sweat, & tears really start to kick in. If you get a deal on one song, you really gotta have 2, 3, 4 more songs to come after that.
When I talk about these things I use a lot of boxing analogies because I came up from a brutal, violent environment and I used to box. So you have to bounce around on your feet and know what you are doing when the shit ain’t going right. So when you dropping records, it’s like a jab 1,2,3 and a body. It’s how your records are set up. So you got the song that you got signed for, the next one, and you have to keep producing records to convince the audience that you are the truth and so that the people are willing to follow your career.
So grind is daily. You have to set your goals daily. Because you don’t wanna be 60 years old and performing on stage with your hip going out or your knees buckling. But you can still be involved in the game by giving the next guy the chance to shine.
➖ For the song “Bucktown”, I noticed that the number of people that’s singing increases every chorus. Like on the first chorus, you got you and Steele. On the second one you got a few more guys and on the last chorus you got a whole bunch of people in there. What was the story behind that?
Tek: It was clearly not intentional. We joke a lot about this within Smif-N-Wessun but we were thrown into the wolves. What I mean by that is “Bucktown” and “Soun Bwoy Bureill” were literally beats made for Heltah Skeltah that they didn’t like. My P.N.C. heard and it and he was like “Man you crazy Tek listen to this shit. Let’s get it.”
So I say “thrown into the wolves” because we were recording in this home studio and we weren’t allowed to smoke in there. So we would have to walk blocks just to go smoke to get in the zone and walk all the way back to warm up for the recording because it was dead winter when we were recording. We were rolling our joints while freezing and shaking so your mind gets kinda fucked up haha.
We were Black Moon’s people so we didn’t really want to violate their studio sessions by bringing in our hooligans and thugs. So when it was our turn to record, we invited our friends to hang out in the studio. So probably as the night was in progression, more people gradually started coming in the studio. So that’s why the number of people increased during the recording session and it started getting wild and shit. It was all experimentation so we were like “If you’re here, contribute to something.” So that’s why on the tracks like “Cession At the Doghillee” you can hear people like Sean Price.
As it was going on, we started catching the feeling for it, not realizing who we were becoming. We were just enjoying what we were doing and it became much more easier to do what we love with the people around us.
➖ I wanted to ask you about the Duck Down Music and the crew. Are there any collabs coming from the crew?
Tek: Yeah. Rest in Peace Sean Price. We just finished mixing and mastering his next album with his wife. Plus we got Black Moon’s next album which they should be recording right now. We also got the next Boot Camp album that’s coming. The first one that’s coming up is the Sean Price album, which Method Man and Raekwon are also on. The album’s gonna be fuckin dope.
➖ So going back to your childhood, what kind of music did you listen to growing up? and how did you get into music.
Tek: I was raised to listen to bunch of types of music. Like my mom was a Christian minister and my dad played saxophone and drums for a bunch of different Rock n’ Roll bands and he actually played with James Brown for a year. I have an uncle out of Boston who does music and I have another uncle who does music in Tennessee. So I grew up around different kinds of music and my older sister used to date a lot of Rastafarians too. I don’t really like separating different kinds of music because great music is great music. Great music is timeless.
➖ Timeless Music
Tek: That’s why for me, I try not to say the year that I recorded in my verses. I might have slipped up a little here and there but for me, good music is supposed to sound fresh and people will never know when you made it. It took me a little time not to do that but yeah, I listen to everything man. I even listen to the ocean breeze when I feel like relaxing. I just like dope music because it lets you open up your mind.
➖ Explaining the Songs from “Skin on Trial“
Tripping Man: This is basically an ode for the weed heads. I came up with this joint when I was around bunch of teenagers. I haven’t smoked weed in like 16 years but by watching them, you can feel the force of energy. Imagine a room full of young people just smoking blunts and good smoke, hearing all the coughing going on.
Let ‘Em Lay: This is a joint with Black Rob. This is basically a track where brush off the feeling when people are hating on you.
Shake & Bake: There used to be a huge drug epidemic in New York back then. You would have cars lined up and you and your team would be selling crack like a driveway. It was a time where it was so serious that a lot of people got rich and a lot of people died. But it was a beautiful because from pain comes beauty.
Bury You: I was feeling a type of way on this. I wasn’t really speaking towards one particular person but I felt like the world was closing in and I had to express it through a song.
Questions from the Fans
➖ What’s the creative process like? Are you guys usually in the studio recording or do you guys record whenever there’s a new project that’s coming up?
Tek: For the most part, it varies. Because first and foremost we’re an human being. So we have different responsibilities. Like I have a son that’s turning 16 this year and he plays AAU Basketball and he’s like number 2 in the country. So all my soul and body is dedicated to him. I tell people to put god first, and everything else falls after that.
So when I do go to the studio, it’s usually booked for me to “work”. So 60% of the time, I would have something written for the studio session. But I also like the vibe of being in the studio so I sometimes write lyrics on the spot. When a producer sends me beats and gives me a deadline, I’ll write before hand and be ready for the studio session because that’s my job. But other than that, it all depends on how you feel when you wake up that day.
➖ How has your rap style/skills changed as an profession?
Tek: I mean as an artist, you grow. So the body of work that you’re going through will change by the time you are making your 3rd album. Maybe not the 2nd album because you might still stick to your style that you were doing on the 1st album. But around your 3rd or 4th album, change might come to you without you noticing it. We have to change because we’re in 2017. We can’t be spitting like you’re in 1988. People are not going to pay attention. Your delivery is gonna change because you still have to keep up with the pace of your surroundings and what’s out there. Whether you fuck with the youngins or you fuck with the old heads, you need to sounding right to make sure that the people fuck with your music.
So you can’t be sounding like “I said a hip hop, The hippie, the hippie,” type of stuff. If your delivery and beats are really dope, your lyricism aint gotta be that good these days. If the beat is dope and your delivery is dope, people with fuck with you. Because nowadays, the most successful rapper in the states, Drake, even has a team of writers to write lyrics for him. So it’s “team work makes the dream work” sometimes. But you still need to reinvent yourself to be relevant in what it is that you’re trying to do.
➖You said you quit smoking weed, but why did you choose to make song about weed in the album?
Tek: Like as I said, I’m a family man. I don’t hang out with people I used to hang out a lot with back in the days. I see the bigger picture because this Rap & Hip-Hop thing, it can open doors to many young people. I got nephews that want to be rappers, videographers, bloggers etc.
For example, when artists like Lil Yachty or Young Thug or somebody like that is doing a show, the first person I’ll call up would be my niece or my nephew. I’ll go around introducing people to them, but when I’m around them, that’s all that happens. I don’t miss being high but when I’m around those young people, that’s the reality I see.
It’s all about catching the moment and getting inspiration. So even if I’m partying with my homies and if I see my man barfing in the corner, I could write a quick verse by just capturing that scene. Just because I wrote about it, it doesn’t mean I want to be drunk or looking stupid like him. It’s all about capturing the moment and when you do capture it, you feel it. It’s not about right or wrong.
➖ The industry has changed a lot within the years. Being in the game for over 20 years, what do think is the most important aspect of your business to survive as an artist?
Tek: The industry has changed but the most important and the easiest answer for that is the music itself. Continuing to make music. Period. Hip-Hop can open many doors like blogging and other business but when it comes time to remember somebody for their legacy, the first thing that people remember will be the music.
For example, people know 2Pac for acting too, but it’s his music that made him the man that we remember him by. He might not be in everybody’s top 5 as an MC, but his MUSIC was what got him into everything. So it all goes back to believing in yourself and making dope music because that’s what’s going to speak for you.
➖ In Japan, a lot of the people can’t understand English so the Music Videos and the visuals are very important to us. What can we expect from you in the near future?
Tek: As you can see, I’m always dressed fresh (Laughs). As we’ve grown to know, the aspects of Hip-Hop are B-Boying, DJing, MCing, Graffiti, and just being dope and looking fresh. As an entertainer, I can’t be looking like a dickhead when I’m in front of people. I don’t walk out of my closet like that. So when we go out, everybody’s looking at each other checking if they are fresh or not. You just gotta keep it fresh.
When you’re an entertainer, you’re on a different level now. Hip-Hop is so broad now that you got people in the fashion industry looking at the rappers like “Damn, maybe I can hire him as an billboard.” You got young Joey Bada$$ modeling for Calvin Klein now. That didn’t happen 20 years ago. Hip-Hop is a Billion dollar BUSINESS and they’re gonna brand you and make money out of you, with you. Being fresh and dope makes you able to do what you’ve always wanted to do.
But to answer your question, I’ll keep putting out the messages to open the doors for other people. It’s always gonna be “each one teach one” and you can always expect that from me.
➖ I’ve been to your shows a several times and I noticed that you guys do a lot of covers and tributes. Is that a cultural thing? or is it just you guys?
Tek: We’re a fan of Hip-Hop. Even in 2016, we lost a lot of music legends like Phife Dawg and it’s to pay homage to those people. It’s also for us to catch our breath during the shows because we’re always performing non stop. So we’re just fans of Hip-Hop and a lot of the people we do tributes on, we were good friends with them. We’re just trying to spread the love. Spreading love is universal. Some people are too focused on hating and they never realize what they can do for other people.
Thank you very much Tek and make sure to check out his new album “Skin on Trial” via the App PLZ.