The DMV's brotherly trio breaks down working their self-titled debut, getting Erykah Badu's deejay alias hosting their "CPR Blend Tape," and strong influence from Wu-Tang Clan and A Tribe Called Quest.
Gods’Illa worked their self-titled debut album for a little over a year. They pushed their product to the blogosphere and launched the UAU Open Mic in 2010 -- their own open mic showcase in Washington, DC -- all while working their debut record. They hit the festival circuit, rocking CMJ, A3C, SXSW, The Brooklyn Hip-Hop Festival and others off Gods’Illa’s growing impact. They networked, dropped a couple of videos, honed their rhyme skills and began piecing together their next project on the side while Gods’Illa spread like Nutella. And in 2011, with high-profile co-signs in tow; with Gods’Illa worked down to the tendon, brothers Ace, Truth and Powerful released their anticipated follow up, The CPR Blendtape with Ms. Fat Belly Bella herself, Erykah Badu hosting their way into that next career phase. “[Their] skills are impeccable,” Badu says near the end of CPR. “You know I know a good Emcee.”
DXNext spoke to Gods’Illa about how Erykah Badu became the host of The CPR Blendtape, the importance of working an album, DC’s musical influence on their sound and Washington’s political landscape.
On Being Brothers Raised In Different States: Powerful says, “It gives us that universal appeal; that universal sound coming from two different angles. We are brothers and we’re from the same family, but being in two different states gives you a different experiences and a different point of view.” Ace adds, “Even though we were born in two different states, we were basically raised together. Like Powerful said, it definitely gives us a broader advantage because P got [Brooklyn] held down and we definitely got DMV held down so it makes for a more universal appeal.”
Washington DC’s Musical Influence: Truth explains, “You won’t hear a whole lot of Go-Go in our sound because we keep it real Hip Hop, but just growing up in [Washington] DC automatically gives you an ear for music because there’s so much live instrumentation. You meet so many artists and you hear the sound of Go-Go and it drives you. Live music automatically makes you want to write a rhyme. Growing up in DC and hearing live music seven, eight nights a week -- and I know there’s only seven nights a week, but that’s how much Go-Go we have hear -- it’s sort of like a baby New Orleans. It’s a huge influence on our style and on our energy on the microphone and what we bring to the table.”
The Importance Of Working An Album: Ace begins, “In our area there are a lot of up and coming artists. One of the big things for us is to try to distinguish ourselves by, not only the music, but by the way we operate; by the way we work records. Where we go with the record. Who we appeal to. That was a big thing for us. We felt that since [Gods’Illa] was a real big album and a real solid project, so what else should we do but to work it. Our main goal was to make sure we could get on these stages outside of the DC area and be received well. So with the A3Cs, the CMJs, the [Brooklyn Bodega] Show & Prove -- that was the start of us getting out to other areas to build our brand; to go out and let them know who Gods’Illa is. Also, we were making a buzz with our [UAU Open Mic] in DC. While we’re making our name on the home front, it was also important to build our brand outside of home. Everything we were doing was part of the grind to get where we are today.”
On Brotherly Competitiveness: Truth reveals, “First of all, I’m the best! [Laughs] It’s competitive but it’s the type of competitive between blood brothers. You’re really a fan of this other person on the track with you, but at the same time, you want to hold the championship trophy up even though we’re actually on the same team. It’s really just fun. It’s like having co-MVPs on the squad. We’re competitive, but at the end of the day, there’s no contract [that could ever separate us]. I know you’ve seen documentaries on Wu-Tang [Clan] or A Tribe Called Quest and everybody’s like, ‘Yo, I can’t believe they’re beefing.‘ You never have to worry about that with us. The competitiveness is just a fun, brotherly competitiveness because you may think you won on the verse or the song, and then you hear that same song tomorrow and be like, ‘Oh shit, he might’ve got me.‘ We’re really fans of each other so the competitiveness is just something that goes back as long as we’ve been alive. It’s all in fun. We’re very supportive of one another.”
On Sampling/Chopping Their Own Songs: Ace says, “That’s a nod to Joe D, our super producer in our corner.” Truth adds, “Shouts to Redman. Redman was an expert at that shit. We get a lot of shit from '90s rappers, let’s be honest. And Joe D, our producer, is obviously the man at that. But I remember being a big fan of Redman and Erick Sermon for always doing that.”
On Choosing The Crash Test Dummies Sample On The “Stay On” Remix: Ace declared, “When Joe D sent that track over he said, ‘Look, I’m about to send over this remix. Y’all might not like it but honestly, this is one of my favorite songs ever. And I just thought I’d do the mix.‘ It’s different. It’s a curveball for us. There’s a lot of rappity-rappity-rapping so we need another angle. Then I heard it and I [loved it]. I told Joe D, ‘This is jamming right here and I know it will appeal to a different crowd.‘ At the end of the day, that was all Joe D’s idea. We definitely agreed with the track and when you listen to it as part of the blend of the tape, you think you have it figured out, but then we come with the [“Stay On” MMM Remix].”
On First Receiving High Profile Co-Signs From Erykah Badu, Others: Truth admits, “For [Erykah Badu] to relate to that, that’s honorable. From her to stic.man to Diamond D to 9th Wonder -- we are literally fans of those artists. We can go word for word with these artists so for them to respect us makes us feel like we belong here; like we made our way to people we respect. It’s very humbling. It’s really really humbling.” Ace recalls Ms. Badu in particular, “I was sitting right in front of her when she said that and I was stuck. I was stuck that she would even say that. During that interview, we would talk about life and just regular things and then she would say ‘Lets get back to the music.‘ So that let me know that she chose to work with us because she likes the music. And I always said that we can get Erykah Badu to host it but more importantly, I want Erykah Badu to be a fan of our music. And that’s how the relationship got to pretty much where it is. She likes the music and you can hear that through [CPR]. That was real important. That was real big. I was in shock when I first heard it.” Powerful chimed in, “The first thing I said was, ‘I’m coming out there to see her!‘ [Laughs] It was a blessing to just hear her speak good on our names.”
On How Erykah Badu Signed On To Host CPR Blendtape: Ace began, “Shout to The Core DJs. That’s how it started. A little while after we signed on for management with The Core DJs, Erykah Badu decided to pursue deejaying more thoroughly, so she joins The Core DJs. That was probably about three weeks after we joined them. Management’s lightbulb went on and they said, ‘Gods’Illa’s our new group and DJ Low Down Loretta Brown is our new deejay. How about we try to reach out and see if she would host [CPR].‘ It was all over the course of five or six months of communication. A month and half after that, I got in touch with her personally and she reached out to us on Twitter for our phone number. But it was definitely initiated by The Core DJs.” Truth said, "We first actually met her at in Austin, Texas at South By Southwest. She treated us like family. Not only did she invite us as a guest to her show, but she was performing with our favorite group of all time, the Wu-Tang Clan. So we were like deers in the headlights. We were like, ‘We’re meeting Erykah, Ghostface [Killah] and GZA? This is crazy!’”
On The “Blendtape” Concept: Ace explained, "The 'blendtape' definitely is a product of us coming up in Hip Hop and listening to Tony Touch and things like that. Our parents are from The Bronx, New York, so we came up in that culture. The term “mixtape” has become cliche. Even the concept and the content has become a bit run of the mill. So we wanted to bring a product of our childhood -- the blendtape -- back because it wasn’t being done. Plus, it was a product of the confidence we have in Joe D. He’s a musical genius as far as sounds, as far as types of music, as far as making music blend together. He did the arrangements on the [Gods’Illa] album. He also did the arrangements on the blendtape. When it comes break beats and making sure one song goes with another and making sure it all blends into one cohesive project, Joe D is the man for that. We always want to be on the cutting edge. We always want to be unique with our delivery and our presentation. So that’s what the CPR Blendtape is.” Powerful: “Basically bringing back Hip Hop and how it started. All the elements and just giving back to the real people who listen. The real audience. That’s basically what CPR is. To resuscitate it. To bring it back."
On Washington DC’s Political Landscape: Truth professes, “[Prince Georges] County is the second or first richest black county in America. It’s a pleasure growing up here because you’ll see black people who are actually affluent. As far as politics, it starts with your community. You can have a national role and you can run for President or whatever, but if you’re not teaching the kids and giving them a jewel when they’re out their selling drugs, then you’re not political. The kids around our way know us. We show face. We do Hip Hop workshops. We try to stay in the community and be involved that way, politically.” Ace adds, “Our goal in life is to teach what we know to others. There are a lot of communities saturated with rappers. Everyone wants to be a rapper -- ain’t no Plan B. [They’re] 19 or 20 or 21 [years old] and they don’t nothing else on their mind but Rap. Hip Hop is cool if you’re good at it or if you have the time to get it where you need to get it to be able to support your family but, ultimately, I’m trying to give these children a jewel that they can actually feed their families off of. It doesn’t always have to be Hip Hop. Hip Hop has gotten to a point where it’s like football or basketball when we were in school. You’re one in a million and yet everybody is putting all their eggs in that basket. You don’t have to be a rapper.”
On The Fans' Response To Their Live Performance:
Ace surmises, “The fans are still hungry, man. They still want it. It’s just like, we’ve gotta be the one to bring it to them. There’s a lot of carbon copy artists out here and [the fans] miss what we bring to the table. They tell us all the time, ‘Y’all are reminiscent of that '90s boom-bap but with a new twist on it.‘ We’ve heard that since before our first album. That era that we represent, the fans miss it.” Truth jumps in, “You see what Curren$y is doing. You see what Big K.R.I.T. is able to do. You see what the whole Jamla [Records] and 9th Wonder is able to do. Lyrics are back. Kendrick Lamar out on the West Coast is spitting something conscious. The Internet is giving people a new lane for them to find what they like but emcees everywhere are spitting that retro. They got tired of the same thing that was coming out on the radio and I think everyone better watch out because we ain’t the only ones. Thank God for the fans because the fans are the ones that requested the CPR Blendtape."