You don’t often come across fools in Philly that remind you of Dose One, the inveterate brain scrambling emcee/poet/visual artist behind Anticon, cLOUDDEAD, Subtle, 13 & God, and many a Scribble Jam facemelts. Emcee Unless, first heard on Curly Castro’s “You and Who’s Army?” and first seen as the illustrator behind the cover for Castro & DJ Ambush’s Phatman & Likkle Bwoy, makes me think of Adam Drucker high on Vitamin Water endorphins rather than Canadian shrooms. Rather than spitting labyrinthian jigsaw puzzles, Unless uses his nasal tone and rubber band flow for more straight ahead leaflets.
But there’s the rub — Emcee Unless aka Dewey Decibel creates languid collages for his inviting releases and slick artwork for hire under his government name Dewey Saunders. He’s the first emcee with a Tumblr who can actually recreate the obscure nightmarish flicks that he reblogs. After getting some local love for his project Dewdrops on a Lotus Leaf, a free release over currated pieces from Flying Lotus, his newest release Preface (outstandingly dystopian lyric book included) and its adjoining album release party tonight at Silk City in Philadelphia featuring Akilles and DJ Apt One aim to cement him beyond the constant enquires to Photoshop some skiznod’s mixtape cover. Being a renaissance man is laborious, sure; but as you’ll read in the text below, Unless, like a pre-College Dropout Kanye, has smartly surrounded himself with killer talent while plotting his own sneak attack.
It’s time for Emcee Unless to learn you something.
1. At what point did you realize music was what you wanted to do?
Music has always been a part of my life and another medium of my art,
but only until recently have I committed to making a career out of music.
Since I started rapping at 16, hip hop has been a lifestyle for me and I was
never interested in the monetary aspect of being an artist. In the past year;
however, I have been focusing more on creating my persona as Emcee Unless
a product through my artwork with marketing and branding. It is just the beginning for me, I feel like I have something special that can easily catch on and I have messages that I need to share through rapping. I want to travel the world with music and art. I want to open third eyes.
2. How has Philadelphia shaped your sound or molded you as a producer, emcee and designer?
Philadelphia has been a great training grounds for music and art, and the people
that I have connected with in Philly have really pushed me to the next level with everything that I do. There are few influential individuals that have pulled things out of me and have shown me how to present my material in a manner so that people understand it. My sound has been shaped by performing with Akilles, rapping with him and his live band live or just jamming out have molded my rapping on the performance side of things. Living with Rick and hearing all of his production for The Roots and Dice Raw and many more kind of brought my sounds to a more professional level. As an emcee Curly Castro has really inspired me with the way he writes rhymes and his delivery in the studio and stage.The city in general is a very inspiring place because there is so much stimuli and energy everywhere to feed off of and translate these experiences into an art form. Most people kind of tune it out but I love to absorb and the sounds and sights and take the fast paced rhythms of the inner city into my own creations.
3. Who are the people you look up to and learn the most from?
Music wise I really look up to Rick Friedrich and Fabian Akilles Thompson. I lived with them for a few years, making music constantly and always collaborating on projects. Rick recognized my talent for rapping when it was pretty raw and abstract and gave me the positive feedback that I needed to get where I need to go. Now we are putting out records under the moniker The Rubix Qube Exclusive and the new album Preface is coming out next month. Fabian and I worked together on many design and music projects and he taught me how simplify to be more comprehensible to the general populace. I really look up to John Fitzpatrick who is a powerful creative force and he teaches me how to step outside of my own paradigms and not be afraid of being who I AM. With art and design I look up to my friends Chad Lassin, Justin Waldron, Misaki Kuwai, Zach Gibson, and Matthew Gribben. All of my friends are so talented and I am very fortunate to learn from the best and collaborate with people that I really admire.
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 think everybody wishes they could do things a bit differently, but in the back of my mind I know that everything unfolds perfectly and you have to learn from your mistakes. That is why we are here. I feel like the little me would have been pretty blown away by where I am right now. The only thing I would have done differently is to laugh and love more. That is the key.
5. What’s hard for you? What do you struggle with?
I struggle with my own pattern traps. Sometimes I just need to lighten up. I tend to be too serious. I struggle with being a perfectionist and I am very hard on myself. My main pattern trap is to jump into a bunch of work without getting centered beforehand. I used to be really into yoga and meditation with a whole morning routine and I have kind of gotten out of that pattern. My lifestyle is very positive and peaceful but I would like to work on myself more and develop a stronger peace of mind instead of fleeting moments of zen. I want to perfect myself and inspire people to do the same.
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?
First I would redesign everything to make the aesthetic fresh and relevant, Secondly I would rearrange the artist roster to create a movement and zeitgeist, kind of like Stones Throw or Anticon ten years ago. I would connect the label to a school system arrange to give back to the community and create some sort of workshop or program to inspire kids to be creative with art and music. That is important.
7. What are some of your favorite albums?
Digable Planets, Blowout Comb. The Roots, Illadelph Halflife. Tribe Called Quest, Midnight Marauders. Zion I, Mind over Matter. Eligh, Grey Crow. Thom Yorke, The Eraser. Opio, Vultures Wisdom Vol. 1. Sufjan Stevens, The Age of Adz. Apostle of Hustle, Folkloric Feel. Pep Love, Ascension.
8. What is inspiring your work right now?
Spring in bloom. The Stars in the Sky. Vintage Life Magazines. Microns on Moleskines. Caffeine. Positive Vibrations.
9. What advice would you offer to someone getting in the business at this time?
Dont do it! (laughter) My advice to anyone who wants to get in the music business is that it is good to just be a listener. There is that song on Deltron 3030 “In the year 3030 everyone wants to be a MC.” Everyone wants to be an maker but it is also okay to be a music enthusiast and enjoyer of sounds, because that is just as important as making the music. Listen Hear.
10. Any words to live by?
Read a book. Walk in the woods. Drink water. Sit in the sunlight. Dream the world awake. Follow your weird. Forget everything.
EMCEE UNLESS PRIMER
Emcee Unless “Preface”
Emcee Unless “Exclusive”
Emcee Unless “Dewey Decibel”