“Hey man I made this beat and you’re the only rapper I can hear on it”. Douglas Martin said this to me in 2007 via email. The beat was titled “Pay Your Taxes”, a raw Al Green flip that was moody, melodic, even-paced, staples of future Douglas Martin beats. I could not write to it. I felt like I was letting the guy down. He came across my stuff pre-Bring Me the Head of Zilla Rocca at Passion of the Weiss for my former column The Beat Generation and wanted to me to Barry Bonds a beat thrown my way. And I had nothing.
The next track Douglas sent me was “High Noon”.
This began the partnership and recorded output between he and I dubbed 5 O’Clock Shadowboxers, a name Douglas spit out one day via email. It fit perfectly. We’ve still have only communicated via email and text almost 3 years since that initial email. And somehow, it all makes sense.
You hear about MC/producer tandems, how great they used to be (Pete Rock & CL Smooth, Guru & Premier, and so on) and how great they can be when practiced in modern rap (Jake One & Freeway, Murs & 9th Wonder, etc), yet not enough folks give it a shot. It might not work all the time, but brother, sometimes that shit WORKS. We have this unspoken understanding of each other that I still can’t quite understand or explain fully. I just know that some fool in Seattle has my ticket. This is how John Locke must’ve felt about Jack Shepherd on Lost.
Becoming the benefactor of Douglas Martin’s compositions for almost 3 years has literally changed everything about my approach to doing hip hop. I’ve alienated people with the Shadowboxers projects. I’ve found an entire new world of fans and collaborators. I don’t get enough “straight up hip hop” blog love. I get praise and shouts on artsy fools’ Tumblr pages thousands of miles away from Philadelphia. I can’t write braggin’ ass battle raps anymore. I am free to tell stories about obtuse subjects, sing (poorly) on interludes, and let that bitch breathe because when Blurry Drones brings his fastball, you just close your eyes and swing.
In order to promote our latest release Broken Clocks EP, I’m spending a fair amount of time this week (before the kickoff to the Twilight Spoiler tour in Los Angeles THIS FRIDAY with Nocando, The Knux, and the Holloys) bringing back my interview series to bring you more insight on the folks who helped make the project what it is today, a 9 song collection that is better than the last one. Without further ado, it’s time for Doulgas Martin to Learn You Something
1. At what point did you realize music was what you wanted to do?
When I spent two months hunkered down in my apartment with a couple of guitars and a severe case of clinical depression, coming out of it with my first release as Fresh Cherries from Yakima. I always thought I’d be a folk singer. Making beats came entirely by accident.
2. How has Seattle shaped your sound or molded you as a MC/producer/DJ/etc?
I suppose a lot of my beats are dark, and I suppose that comes from spending almost 12 years in a city that gets at least 150 days of rain every year.
3. Who are the people you look up to and learn the most from?
I literally take inspiration and cues from everywhere: Producers, MCs, rock bands, literature, the weather. I learn from everywhere and everything, making it too hard to make an itemized list of what inspires me.
4. With everything you’ve learned thus far, what do you wish you could have told yourself at the beginning? Would you have done anything differently?
I wish I would have taken an active interest in music back in middle and high school, when I was playing the French Horn and percussion for school band. I could have learned so much more about music at such an earlier age if I would have taken it seriously.
5. What’s hard for you? What do you struggle at?
Being more ambitious as far as making music an actual ‘career’.
6. Here’s a scenario: tomorrow you become the CEO of a major label. What are the first 3 things you would do as the boss?
Stage a month of interviews with every single person that works at the label. Find out what they’re in the music business for, and tell them what I’m in the music business for. Music is the most immediate art form in the world, and the companies spending the most money promoting it should not have the most disposable art on the market.
Sign bands and artists that I believe in, and tell all of my staff to not work on a project if they don’t believe in the artist.
Reconfigure the ‘360 Deal’ or just get rid of it altogether. Touring is how artists make their money, and record sales are how labels make theirs. I know record sales are dwindling, but if the budgets are tightened and the artists are taken care of, everyone can still cake off.
7. What are some of your favorite albums?
Here’s my top-five all-time:
Silver Jews- American Water
Neutral Milk Hotel- In the Aeroplane Over the Sea
Raekwon- Only Built 4 Cuban Linx
Jay-Z- Reasonable Doubt
Radiohead- Ok Computer
8. What is inspiring your work right now?
Psych-rock bands from San Francisco. Noise-rock bands from Los Angeles. Slang terms from the 1930’s.
9. What advice would you offer to someone getting in the business at this time?
Do it because you’re passionate about your work. Do it because you think you’re the dopest MC, the illest producer, or the craziest guitarist. If you’re in this business primarily to make money, you’re ostensibly in the wrong business. Push the art, not the paper.
10. Any words to live by?
Traveling the beaten path is fucking boring. Make your own path.
The full Shadowboxers catalogue with beats by the Blurry one, Drones that is