Let Me Learn You Something: Grand Agent

Pete Rock.  Lord Finesse.  Camp Lo.  Oh No.  Illmind.  Kev Brown.  J Rawls.  DJ Revolution.  Grand Agent has worked with all of them.  The Philly emcee who hosted the first hip hop show I ever attended by myself (ahem, Reflection Eternal and Dilated Peoples at TLA in 2000) realized something very early on during his fair years in the indie hip hop game: the real diehards, the longterm audience, is overseas.

After dropping his debut LP By Design in 2001, an album that introduced his earnest b-boy bravado on the mic and behind the boards, Grand got busy with Pete Rock on the syrupy groove mission “This is What They Meant”, allowing him credibility to a career that would see some radical turns as the last decade wore on.  By 2003, Grand saw the future of indie hip hop — it’s far reaching global appeal.   But rather than just putting out Japan-only vinly releases, Grand packed his bags and left the Illadelph Halflife for Germany, linking up with producers in the land of the Hasselhoff for 2003’s Fish Outta Water LP.  But a steady diet of captive indie hip hop heads, bratwersts, and three finger salutes can’t really compete with the weather, women, and the weed of California, USA.  So, in 2005 Grand linked up with Oh No to put out Under the Circumstances , years before The Disrupt fully moved out of Otis’ shadow.

Now, Grand Agent can lay his head in three separate time zones comfortably.  And he’s using artist driven sites like Bandcamp to boomerang all three fan bases with projects ranging from industry freestyles to classic violinists meet boom bap to maxi-singles with Camp Lo (you can check the full spectrum here) .  Even though his visibility isn’t as dominant due to the death of HipHopSite.com, Sandbox Automatic, et. al Grand hasn’t cried foul to the chasms of Internet Hip Hop 2.0.  He’s met it head on and stayed one step ahead as usual.

Now, it’s time for Grand Agent to learn you something. 

1. At what point did you realize music was what you wanted to do?
1986. Listening to records, the realization came over me.

 2. How has Philly, Germany, and LA shaped your sound or molded you as an MC/producer?
Philly gave me the foundation, what the theme of my career would be about. Germany gave me the global perspective that helped me shape how to present what Philly taught me on a worldwide scale. LA gave me the business perspective of how to make all of that a viable product. As far as a sound, I keep that in flux, my theme is my sound. The music varies from project to project based on who I’m working with.

3. Who are the people you look up to and learn the most from?
My mom is a pretty ill character in terms of a tangible example of how good life can become no matter where you started out, or how far you might fall off or get caught up in the various mixes out here in the world. I probably learn the most from my son.
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 would have just reminded myself more often to be more service oriented with the joints. Gotta lotta joints I don’t really get down with personally no more… but nah I wouldn’t have done anything differently other than what I just said. That would’ve have preempted a lotta life and career issues.

5.  What’s hard for you?  What do you struggle with?
The spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak. That’s how I sum up the struggle.

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?

a. reduce
b. recycle
c. reuse
7. What are some of your favorite albums?
Sly & The Family Stone Anthology
Main Source Breaking Atoms
Sade Paradise

8. What is inspiring your work right now?
Christ, the ghetto that all of America is, and young people not knowing where this Rap thing came from.

9. What advice would you offer to someone getting in the business at this time?

10.  Any words to live by?
Act like what you pray for.



Grand Agent & Pete Rock “This is What They Meant”

Grand Agent f/ Planet Asia “It’s Only Right”

Grand Agent & Oh No “Grand Right Now”

Grand Agent “What I Want”

Grand Agent on Twitter

Grand Agent on Facebook

Grand Agent on Bandcamp

Free DL: Grand Agent & DJ Modesty Hustle Till it Hurt


Let Me Learn You Something: Emcee Unless

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 “Preface”

Emcee Unless “Exclusive”

Emcee Unless “Dewey Decibel”

Emcee Unless on Bandcamp
Emcee Unless on Twitter
Emcee Unless on Soundcloud
Emcee Unless on Facebook




Let Me Learn You Something: Quelle

The way I’ve sold  Danny Brown’s The Hybrid to my friends who were the fence about the nasal, gap-toothed midwestern Young Zee on Adderal is this: Hybrid is the first great Detroit rap record that reps its hometown while sounding nothing like a traditionally great Detroit rap record.   There’s no half baked Dilla knockoffs, no chiseled out GMC-sponsored arena anthems like Recovery, no live drummers or synths from Black Milk, and no guest spots from Guilty Simpson, Elzhi, King Gordy, or a member of D12.  It’s a completely insulated masterpiece from arguably the last American city who takes pride in turning out nothing but great hip hop albums. 

Quelle is a big part of this bizarro Detroit landscape.  His production contributions to The Hybrid, which ended up being my favorite songs, ranged from the filthy Billy Squire-like banger “White Stripes” to the Mr. Roboto marble mouthed funk on “Greatest Rapper Ever”.  When Aaron Matthews interviewed him and Denmark Vassey (the duo together work as Crown Nation) last year for Passion of the Weiss’ breakdown on the making of The Hybrid, I envisioned Quelle as another lunchpail producer: a nerdy homebody who devoured Kraftwerk and Madlib records.  When you make beats that outlast 14KT, Chuck Inglish, and Frank Dukes, you’re assumed to be an avid gearhead who roughly gets about 2 hours of sunglight exposure.  Not the case with Quelle. 

Getting  co-signs from Brown, Blu and  House Shoes solidified his authentic brand of Detroit beat cutlery.  But Quelle raps, sings, draws, and enjoys a nice cup of coffee much more than developing scoliosis from record digging in dingy basements.  He’s put in work behind the boards and on the mic with Denmark Vassey as Crown Nation, went for dolo as an emcee on his debut Blue Monday, and sings through grizzly bear masks as Awesome in Outerspace.  Gully.

What you’ll see in Quelle’s video interview (the first we’ve ever had for this interview series) is his charismatic and nonchalant attitude towards hip hop.  He exudes carefree confidence, a humble likeability you don’t get from newer artists who have made their mark on the internet.  As you’ll see from his casual approach and anti-Linda Richman morning coffee chat, Quelle isn’t constrained to the rigors of putting out 100 new songs a month or making sure he doesn’t “lose his spot” in the ravenous world of online hip hop.  He’d rather make a song when it’s time to make a song, whether it’s behind a mask, over breakfast, or weeded out with the Hybrid.  Being a well-rounded human being > rapping for blogs or making beats to impress other producers.

It’s time for Quelle to learn you something.


Danny Brown “Greatest Rapper Ever” prod by Quelle

Danny Brown “Guitar Solo” prod by Quelle

Danny Brown “Re-Up” prod by Quelle

Awesome in Outer Space “Say Goodbye” feat Nick Davio

Quelle “The Loop”

Quelle “Deal With It” feat Denmark Vassey (prod by Quelle)


I’d like to give massive praise to Quelle for not only agreeing to do this interview, but to suggest making it a video interview and then filming and editing the video on his own time.  The man is a goddamn rap octopus.

Let Me Learn You Something: 100dbs

Photo by Tiffany Hagler-Geard

It doesn’t take much to deejay anymore.  No longer the lone trade of audiophiles, record geeks, and jamdown masters, deejaying is for savvy laptop holders, iPod owners, and bored celebrities.  Accessibility and technology have enabled anyone with a 16 GB hard drive and moustache to make a name for themselves.  DJ’s still retain a lofty level of cool but the craft is secondary to the wow factor of 4 on the 4 blends by your local coke dealer.

100dbs is a DJ from New York who is missing the stunna shades and sweaty Baltimore Orioles fitted (not that there’s anything wrong with that — long live Billy “Fuckface” Ripken) but is heavy on dusty fingers, crowd control, and seemless blends.  He is the first DJ to be featured for this interview segment and with good reason; whether live shows across the country or mixes covering the genius of Stax, Scratch Perry, Brian Wilson, Aphex Twins, or Sublime, 100dbs has warranted praise from Rolling Stone, Okayplayer, and URB for his needles and know-how.  He’s so deft at every aspect of deejaying that he might take a crack at D List celebreality to even out the playing field for the good guys. 

It’s time for 100dbs to learn you something.

1. At what point did you realize music was what you wanted to do?
I’d say it was in middle school or early high school. I was real into the NJ punk and ska scene in the mid 90s and I learned a lot from the musicians I met. Being able to go see so many talented groups up close for cheap really sealed the deal for me.. I bunkered down in my basement and started learning different instruments while experimenting with simple four track tape recordings.

2. How has NYC shaped your sound or molded you as a DJ/producer?
Call me old school, but to this day my favorite rap records came out of New York. I love me some other shit too, but all the records I consider lifelong classics are pretty much NYC joints. I also think the sheer diversity of the city kept my ears wide open.. there are types of music I never would have gotten into if it weren’t for the densely cultured scenes that exist in a place like New York. I like everything, man. Or at least.. there’s a tune in any style I will love.

3. Who are the people you look up to and learn the most from?
I know a lot of musicians in the area and I learn a thing or two from everybody. I went down to Maryland for school, and when I came back to New York I got in touch with The Slackers again. They ended up asking me to do a few shows with them as a DJ and things grew from there.

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?
Mainly, I think I’d tell myself to stop being such a perfectionist and release more. I made a ton of shit that never surfaced because I was just too slow or too critical. You gotta strike while the iron is hot.

5. What’s hard for you? What do you struggle with?
Like I said, I mostly have trouble letting things go. Sometimes the only thing that gets me to finish things is a strict release date.

Photo by Eddy Price


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?
1. Kill all albums with filler. I would tell artists to forget about singles and just make dope EPs if that’s what they got in em. No reason to dilute what’s there to fake the consumer into buying a product.. it doesn’t even work anyway.
2. Encourage collaborations. People don’t wanna give up their share of the cash, but further down the road it’s usually a better investment to diversify.
3. Stop pressing CDs. Anything digital goes straight to download, and the only physical format is wax. It’s cute to see all these people doing limited releases on cassette, but honestly that’s a boutique thing. And CDs are done. MP3s aren’t my favorite thing in the world, but they get the job done and soon enough WAVs won’t be considered such a pain in the ass to download and store, if America ever gets its broadband game tight.

7. What are some of your favorite albums?
This list could go on forever but here are some:
Lee Perry – Blackboard Jungle Dub
Smiley Lewis – I Hear You Knocking
The Beach Boys – Pet Sounds
De La Soul – De La Soul Is Dead
The Slackers – The Question
Aphex Twin – Selected Ambient Works
Lee Hazlewood – Cowboy In Sweden
GZA – Liquid Swords

8. What is inspiring your work right now?
New Orleans soul has been in heavy rotation recently. There’s something about a 1-4-5 or blues progression over old school drum rhythms that is really interesting. No matter how many times you hear that familiar backdrop, everybody does their thing differently and it says a lot about their pedigree and culture. I love that.. it’s the same way I appreciate 100 reggae tunes on the same riddim or rap tracks that all sample the same source. Interpretation is beauty.

The mix I’m releasing on 4/20 is actually a deconstruction of one of the 90s’ most influential groups. Hate em or love em, Sublime took more pieces from different styles than any of their peers. I know they are widely disparaged as a “bro” band, they’re “not real reggae” and it’s not all that cool to like em.. but I’d be lying if I said they didn’t introduce me to tons of music at a young age. And I’m sure many people my age would find it hard to claim differently. I just call em like I see em, and if it’s an inconvenient truth, at least it’s the truth. I can’t deny originality.

9. What advice would you offer to someone getting in the business at this time?
Don’t. If you love it, do it. If you’re in it for the business… let’s just say you better have a good degree or own some real estate already.

10. Any words to live by?
Be yourself and don’t worry about scenes. These things come and go but the art you leave behind is the only thing people (might) remember about you.

Photo by Tiffany Hagler-Geard


100dbs Primer
100dbs & Ryan O’Neil feat Prince Po “Respect”
100dbs “Poppa Large in the US (Aphex Twin Mashup)”

100dbs “What You Know About Richard James (Aphex Twin Mashup)”

100dbs on Twitter

100dbs official site with tons of free mixes

Let Me Learn You Something: Man Mantis

It takes a man in a mantis mask to release a Ninja Tune type of album months after remixing “Black and Yellow” — depending on which one makes a bigger wave, it’s good to keep the identity hidden lest you piss off the Armitron and/or Amon Tobin crowd. 

Man Mantis is from Madison, Wisconsin.  Being a diehard Chicago Bears fan, my default train of thought is to smite anyone within spitting distance of the Packers and Lambeau field.  But when you put in work like Mantis, via live shows with the band Dumate, a soulful EP with emcee J Dante, remixes of Big Boi, and haunted hallway instrumental EPs and LPs dropping every 3-4 months or so, it’s hard to hold a grudge over professional athletics.

Being a fellow artist on World Around Records, I was drawn to Mantis’ stuff first because 1) there was ALOT of it 2) I thought he was paying homage to the mid 90’s Friday night Fox show M.A.N.T.I.S.  and 3) his mask creeps me out.  Intrigue always garners a listen.   

With a new album Cities Without Houses (and very choice Kickstarter campaign behind it) that shows flashes of Sixtoo and Music By Cavelight-era Blockhead, it’s time for Man Mantis to learn you something.

1. At what point did you realize music was what you wanted to do?
My mom had a piano in the house and made me and my brother take lessons for eight years, and when she finally let me quit I realized what a cool thing it was that I had learned how to do.  So I just tried to learn as many instruments as I could,  and sort of wrapped myself up in it.  I don’t think I can remember when making music was something I didn’t want to do.

2. How has Madison, Wisconsin shaped your sound or molded you as a producer, arranger, and songwriter?
When I moved out to Madison to go to school in 2004, the car me and my dad were traveling in was broken into in Omaha, Nebraska and all my records, my turntables, my monitors and most of my clothes were stolen.  So all the music I made in Madison has been made on equipment I got here, sampling records that I bought here, and with people that I met here.  Madison is a very comfortable place to live, and a great place to sharpen your skills.  There’s a lot of really creative people, several really cool venues, and the scene is very supportive, in that when you go to a local show a good part of the crowd is other local musicians.  Its definitely a place where you can experiment and try different things, and folks for the most part encourage that and support that.  There’s not these jaded scenesters trying to drag you down.  If you suck, people will tell you “Hey I’m not feeling it, but don’t give up.”  Instead of “you need to stop, you’re terrible.”  That being said, its not a place you can really make power moves; most truly successful Madison musicians end up leaving for bigger markets.

3. Who are the people you look up to and learn the most from?
I look up to a lot of the musicians I play with here in Madison, particularly my band dumate.  I’m the youngest in the band, and Jah Boogie and Nick Moran, the drummer and bassist, are serious musicians with serious chops.  They’ve dedicated themselves to making music a livelihood without making it a chore.  And the MCs, Dudu Stinks and DLO are like my big brothers, they taught me how the music scene in Madison works.  As for how I learn from, I work with Middle School kids when I’m not making music, and when I see all the bullshit they stress so much over it helps me get perspective on the bullshit I stress so much over.

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 would have told myself to pay much more attention to the marketing side of things when I was younger.  I spent a lot of years just making beats and messing around with different ideas with absolutely no plan on how to get the music out to the world at large and make at least enough money off of it to keep doing it.  And honestly, I might have told myself to be a little less generous.  That sounds weird, but frankly I handed out a lot of free beats and did a lot of free recording sessions before I was able to convince myself that my craft and my time was valuable.

5.  What’s hard for you?  What do you struggle with?
Man, one of the biggest struggles is staying motivated when there’s so much good music being released every day.  I have to shut myself off from music that’s not mine when I’m trying to finish a project sometimes, because if I hear something amazing it makes me want to go and try to make something completely new and off the wall.  Dedicating so much time to being a musician introduces a certain competitive feeling into your consumption of music I guess, which is a little strange and uncomfortable.

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?
1.) Fire everyone.
2.) Sell everything.
3.) Invest in World Around Records.

Labels, even major ones, should be run by dedicated, humble, artistic people that call and talk to each other about random bullshit.  There should be no ripping of offs, nobody is kissing of asses, and all artists should be invested in their own success, rather than blowing some advance on drugs and strippers while some business school prick tries to sell them.

7. What are some of your favorite albums?
The Beatles – The White Album
GZA – Liquid Swords
Masta Ace – A Long Hot Summer
Sly and the Family Stone’s Greatest Hits
Black Milk – Tronic
The Roots – Game Theory

And the first Presidents of the United States of America album.

8. What is inspiring your work right now?
Well music is supposedly all about “expressing yourself.”  Which is a huge cliche, and most of the time its taken to mean that your music, or art, should have a “message.”  But the music I’m making now is kind of me talking to myself.  I honestly can’t say, or write or draw or even think, the contents of my mind as well as I can arrange them musically, so its kind of a way to figure out what exactly is going on up there.

9. What advice would you offer to someone getting in the business at this time?
Get all of your most creative, honest, and energetic friends together, read a few books about marketing and copyright law, and make shit happen on your own.  No matter how awesome your music is, people usually won’t care about it unless someone really cool tells them to, so create an artistic experience that tasteful, cool people want to associate themselves with.  Then monetize.

10.  Any words to live by?
Be excellent to each other, and party on, dude.


Man Mantis “Red Dragonfly” Video

Man Mantis Live MPC Jam

Wiz Khalifa “Black and Yellow (Man Mantis Remix)”

Man Mantis on Bandcamp

Man Mantis on Twitter

World Around Records site

Let Me Learn You Something: Starkey

I’ve talked extensively about my friendship with Starkey before here, but this segmet of Let Me Learn You Something isn’t a hand-out; Starkey made one of the best beat albums of the year with Ear Drums and Black Holes via Planet Mu.  It’s time to pay homage (MTV UK just did) before his new project Space Traitor Vol. 1 pushes your burrito backwards.

With everyone tossing out his name in their Best of 2010 lists, and with Starkey gearing up for yet another raucous, bass-mashing Seclusiasis party, I figured it’s as good as time as any to let Allentown’s biggest Paul Wall and Busta Rhymes fan and Philly’s preeminent grime/dubstep/street bass assassin learn you something.   And if you’re in Philly tonight, this is the official low end jam down to go ham at with Starkbot, Dell o8o, Dev79, Siyoung, and Copout at Fluid.

1. At what point did you realize music was what you wanted to do?
When I realized I wasn’t going to be good / tall enough for the NBA.  Jokes aside, I was really into music and sports early on, but i wasn’t quite good enough at one sport to really make it a career.  I think it was around 7th grade when I decided to stop playing soccer to have a go at football for my 8th grade year… because I knew that I wasn’t going to play any sports in high school, just focus entirely on music.

2. How has Philly shaped your sound or molded you as a producer, arranger, and songwriter?
It’s a pretty diverse place, so you get to hear a lot of different kinds of music.  I definitely got back into hiphop through living in this city and hearing it all over the place.  Philly’s a rough town to get music going in as well, it seems like there’s not the same kind of support with club-goers and all that, so it really wears on some people.  They get burnt out.  I think it just makes the people who are persistent stronger, and more determined to be successful.
3. Who are the people you look up to and learn the most from?
I learn a lot from my wife, Devon.  She’s always telling me that I need to take time to just enjoy the now… because I’m always thinking about the future, planning for the future, always thinking about the next project.  We get caught up in that all the time as musicians / producers.  You only live once, so sometimes you need to just enjoy the things going on right now, and forget about what needs to be done a day from now, a week from now, or where things might be in your career in the next year or two.  That’s really important.
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?
No not at all.  I mean, there may be a few regrets in there, things that maybe didn’t turn out the way that you wanted them to, or something didn’t quite appear the way you wanted it to…. but nothing major.  I think you have to make those kinds of mistakes in life to learn from them.  That’s a cliche saying, but it feels true.  I might have picked a different name from Starkey if I’m honest.  I was never good with names, and Starkey just kind of happened by accident.  But now I’m just Starkey, and it is what it is.  I’m fine with it… it’s not some stupid name like Fringe Bicycles or something like that.
5.  What’s hard for you?  What do you struggle with?
Getting away from the computer.  haha.  I can’t imagine a day without email or working on music.  There are days I don’t work on production, but I’m always checking email and talking with people online, doing facebook, twitter, etc. I think I need to pull myself away from it more often.  At least that kind of stuff.  I used to be bad with checking out blogs and all, but I’ve gotten things pretty organized so that I’m not wasting time.

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’d probably fire a bunch of people that have no new ideas on how to market and release music.  That’s one of the main reasons why the industry is in such bad shape.  Next I’d probably hire a bunch of really smart web and app developers because that’s the future of how music will be sold, distributed, released, everything.  Imagine a world where an artist’s blog, new music, videos, twitter, demos, live sessions, etc. feed directly to your phone, television, pc.. basically everywhere.  Well that’s where we’re headed.  That’s the future of the music industry.  Lastly, I’d sign all the Seclusiasis and Slit Jockey guys to deals, because they make good music.
7. What are some of your favorite albums?
I did a top 10 recently… and this was what I came up with…. The Beatles “White Album” and “Magical Mystery Tour”, Radiohead “Kid A”, Portishead “Roseland NYC Live”, Alpha “The Impossible Thrill”, Beastie Boys “Check Your Head”, Tricky “Maxinquaye”, Aphex Twin “Druqks”, Frank Sinatra “September of My Years”, and Dizzee Rascal “Boy in Da Corner”.
8. What is inspiring your work right now?
I’ve been listening to a lot of the old hardcore, metal and indie records I listened to when I was in junior high and high school.  So that’s been interesting.  I’m also really interested in working with vocals and collaborating with various artists.  I’ve developed a writing relationship with Guy Sigsworth, and we’ve penned a handful of tunes that we will most likely be producing for a handful of artists this coming year.  He’s worked with Bjork, Imogen Heap, Madonna, and various other artists over his career, and we both come from really diverse musical backgrounds with a foundation in classical music and theory.  So when we write together, we both kind of speak the same language.  The music we’ve been writing has been diverse, but still sounds like the 2 of us sitting in a room and writing together.

9. What advice would you offer to someone getting in the business at this time?
Don’t be afraid to experiment.  The industry is shook…. there’s so much room for defining your own niche and really pushing in a musical direction that allows you to express yourself.
10.  Any words to live by?
haha.  I don’t know man…. um…… It’s all Street Bass to Me.  ha

Let Me Learn You Something: Von Pea

I once asked a buddy to sell me on Tanya Morgan.  He has their whole catalouge.  He’s kicked it with them on Okayplayer.com  He has hung out with them occasionally in person.  And he said, “Ahh….man…it’s like…they’re just…I don’t know!  Like…they’re funny…but its mostly in-jokes…and ummm…you know….they do their thing!”

Von Pea, one third of Tanya Morgan and member of the Lessondary Crew (along with Elucid and Che Grand who have been interviewed here), is building a career off likability and accessibility, sure, but his solo output is quietly creeping up on Daniel Dumile-levels of consistent product for the heads that already be knowin’.  He’s rocking over jamming outtakes from The Roots alongside Donwill on The Sandwich Shop, tackling Lord Quasimoto’s instrumental breaks for The Further Adventures of Von Pea, and crafting the awesomely titled So Motivational: The Most Skullduggery of MixtapesAt that’s only since late 2008 (not counting numerous production credits, cameos, and the release of Tanya Morgan’s Brooklynati).  Unlike rappers who want to forcefeed you hard drives full of free new music every day attesting to their “grind” and their Twitter footprint, Pea crafts fully realized projects before releasing them, whether they be a homage to one of his heroes or a concept album built around the realization that most of us weren’t The Man in high school. 

As one of the guys who has used the internet to his advantage while not oversaturating and annoying fans, Von Pea has released a new solo LP Pea’s Gotta Have It.  Nostalgic but never pandering, warm-hearted without being corny, it’s quietly creeping into the discussion of this year’s best hip hop releases without straying from what makes Tanya Morgan and Lessondary a fixture online and on stage…it’s the uhhh…you know..like..the fact that…they’re dope and what not…but like…it’s more I guess?…I don’t know…just….just…maaaaan, just listen to their joints!

It’s time for Von Pea to learn you something.

1.  At what point did you realize music is what you wanted to do?
1996.  Listening to Beats Rhymes and Life by Tribe Called Quest.  I realized I could make music for real if I had the resources.  I was writing rhymes before that but it was just something to do until that moment.

2.  How has New York shaped your sound or molded you as an MC and producer?
I’m born and raised in NY so its really all that I know. NY is my sound based on how I came up and what I related to. I grew up a fan of music from other regions too but when I didnt know what they were talking about, I did know what block Biggie was talking about or what the slang Tribe used meant. That lead to my music sounding the way it does…riding the trains and being around so many people while listening to artists that grew up the same way on the same blocks.

3.  Who are the people you look up to and learn the most from?
I admire what The Roots did. Years ago it seemed like the platinum rappers were popping and The Roots were going to be this slept on phenomenon forever…now those rappers have all fallen off and The Roots still making dope ass albums and they’re on TV every night.

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 don’t believe I would’ve done anything different really. I’m concerned with my next step and making sure i dont regret that!

5.  What’s hard for you?  What do you struggle with?
We’re all fighting to be seen and appreciated in the current state of music. Its too easy to hop online and grab a bunch of free songs from anybody from myself to Kanye or Jay-Z.  Just a few years ago we all would go to a cd store and buy someones new single for like 3 dollars now its online and purposely free! So its so much of it, its hard to be valued properly.

6.  Here’s a scenario: tomorrow you become the CEO of a major record label.  What are the first 3 things you do as boss?
Realistically I wouldnt know what to do lol…but without worrying about logistics I would start Lessondary Records under the major label, which means the collective I’m apart of would have real financial support and a machine behind us. Then I would bring one-producer urban soundtracks back, the way Organized Noize or Babyface or Death Row used to do. Like, I’d hire Foreign Exchange music group to do a whole soundtrack for a romantic comedy or some shit. I cant think of a third right now…

7.  What are some of your favorite albums?
Biggie-Ready to Die, Snoop-Doggystyle, Outkast-Aquemini, Kanye West-Graduation, Jay z-The Blueprint, NWA-efil4saggiN, Dangelo-Voodoo, Rah Digga-Dirty Harriet, etc.

8.  What is inspiring your work right now?
G.O.O.D. fridays is really dope. Everyone is either too cool or too jaded to really acknowledge how dope it is, I dont care how long underground cats been doing the same thing…the idea that Kanye doesn’t have to but is doing it anyway is inspiring. Just making music and putting it out free because its fun to him. I think its actually helpful to underdogs that he’s doing that…he stepped down from the mountain and he’s kicking it with the towns people (haha)

9.  What advice would you offer to someone getting into the business at this time?
Don’t quit your day job.

10.  Any words to live by?
Don’t turn your passion into a job, turn your job into a passion…and if that sounds generic then ignore it and allow the rest of us to find happiness!


Von Pea Primer

Foreign Exchange f/ Von Pea “Von Sees”

Von Pea “Boombox”

Tanya Morgan “So Damn Down”

Von Pea “Star Struck”

Follow Von Pea on Twitter


Stream or purchase Pea’s Gotta Have it at Amazon.com

Von Pea on Bandcamp