Underground Report: Eyedea and Nicolay

posted February 24, 2008 12:00:00 AM CST | 6 comments

Eyedea made a name for himself by working hard. As a young emcee, he was touted as the next best freestyle battle rapper, won a televised KRS-One hosted battle and generated a buzz after winning several competitions and releasing critically acclaimed underground albums as a solo artist (The Many Faces of Oliver Hart) and as a member of Eyedea & Abilities (First Born, E&A). He was also one of the most prominent figures within Minnesotas indie powerhouse Rhymesayers Entertainment. Things have changed, but a lot has remained the same.

Today, Eyedea is a busy man. How can he not be busy with a brand new Eyedea & Abilities album, an Oliver Hart double disc, a new Carbon Carousel LP and a full blown run of a poetry book on the way? Well, even with that kind of schedule, hes managed to find time to sit down with DX's Underground Report to speak on life, changes, his various groups and why freestyle battling isnt artistic enough for him.

HipHopDX: People have not heard much from Eyedea & Abilities for quite some time. What have you both been up to, together and separately since the E&A album?
Eyedea:
Separately, I know Max [DJ Abilities] has been working hard on his set as just a solo turntablist. Hes actually been touring and hes actually been touring for the past three years. I started two different bands. One is kind of an all improvised, free-jazz, freestyle thing, performance art thing called Face Candy. And, another one is a Rock band called Carbon Carousel.

DX: Lets talk about that for a minute. How has that allowed you to expand your horizons creatively in a different way than E&A?
E:
Well, particularly with Carbon Carousel, I dont rap so I dont have to fit a million words in a song, you know? I get to paint more of a sketch as opposed to painting a very detailed picture with my words. I really like that because I like the idea of the audience or the listenerWell, its like they almost have to create the song with you as theyre listening. They write it with you. In that way, also, I can tell stories without them being as personal, you know?

DX: What about with Face Candy? How is that different from E&A?
E:
We get to improvise. We dont focus on playing in time, in tune or in anything. Its just free music and thats different from anything else I do. Theres nothing. We dont rehearse. We dont even have discussions about our music, really. We just walk on the stage and start making noise.

DX: What is your writing style like? For instance, do you freestyle and just hit the booth? Do you write it out and edit for a long time? How does that process work?
E:
I pretty much write really quickly these days. Now, I know so much about what I dont want to have coming out of my mouth, once I have an idea for something, I tend to write it down really fast. Also, I dont want it to be over thought so I just write it as fast as I can.

DX: Was it different before?
E:
It was a little different before. I was younger, so it would take me longer to shape my ideas into something that was good.

DX: You talk about your youth. You got a lot of recognition at a pretty young age. What do you think allowed for that to happen at such a young age?
E:
I think I was lucky in a lot of ways because I had people around me that were interested in putting out my music. I was ambitious. I was always into working hard, even when I was seven years old. So, I worked hard fast and I also loved music and art. So, the more you like something, the more you do it. The more you do it, the better you get at it. With the whole underground Hip Hop thing and the internetI dont even know how to analyze the culture as far as how my voice actually got heard, [laughs] but, it did apparently.

DX: Since you guys have been on Rhymesayers for awhile, since it began, what are the biggest changes you have seen? What can you attribute as the main reasons for the success of the label?
E:
Like I said, its all about a bunch of hard workers. I dont really know much about the industry. I know that Rhymesayers has slowly become ajust a good business and they work with artists that work hard. Its an art driven label and its based around the groups that release records within the label. Its a free institution in that sense. You can become as successful as you want because they have all of the tools. But, theyre not going to make you do anything.

DX: Looking back at all of the accolades you have received, what would you say has been your biggest accomplishment?
E:
I dont really know. Its probably been things that dont have to do with music. Its probably been learning stuff about myself, learning to be kind and empathize and understand the human condition on a deeper level. Thats always what Im striving for even more than Im striving to be a great artist. I want to understand more about how to be happy.

DX: So, why did you decide to go into so many different groups?
E:
There was never a time when I quit rapping. I was still making rap records. Ive done lots of guest appearances and making records with my friends. So, it was always still going on. I think what happened was people were so shocked that they assumed that it must mean that me and Abilities would never make music again. It was really pretty dumb, to be honest. When that shit started happening, I started getting hate mail and all that. My real response was, instead of explaining like, Hey, no, man. Im just doing things. Chill out. I was more like Fuck you! You obviously dont really understand anything that Im talking about. Then I got real indulgent weird for awhile and it hurt my feelings a little bit. Blah, blah, blah! Anyway, what it brought me to understand is that none of these mediums fulfill everything that I want them to fulfill. So, instead of trying to make Hip Hop sound like some big, cool, crazy, dark, fuckin art rock, I just have a band that does that. Instead of trying to make Hip Hop sound like its all freestyle or all free, I just have a band that does that. Now, I, coming to the conclusion that I can do all of that. I love making Hip Hop music, producing music with Max, and I love performing. In a lot of ways, its just little places foe m to put stuff.

DX: When did you decide that Hip Hop wasnt fulfilling everything you wanted?
E:
I had a studio. We were always mixing Hip Hop records and trying to make them sound super huge. Wed throw on a rock record we liked. Both, me and Max are super into all sorts of music. Wed be like How come Hip Hop doesnt sound so big, massive? Then I started getting into the idea of playing live instruments. Right when we finished the E&A record, we went on tour. I had a bunch of Beatles records and I was really listening to the way that they composed and produced music. I got this sense, I was like, I bet I could do this! This isnt all that complicated if you strip away the layers! Holy shit! This song is like fuckin four chords and thats it. Then I started getting into composing music and playing piano. Then, I got into buying keyboards. Slowly, I got into this world in my studio. Now, in my studio, theres no drum machine. There are no sequencers. Theres synthesizers, guitars, a piano and a drum kit. You know?

DX: Would you ever got back into battling?
E:
No, I wouldnt. If the whole structure of it changed, I would be interested in it. If the challenge was actually more about skill than just being able to make someone laugh or make fun of someone. I dont see myself being able to go up there and make fun of someone anymore. More, I want to go up there and give someone a hug.

DX: When did you decide that it wasnt for you anymore?
E:
Well, it was actually after I hadnt done it for awhile. I started this thing called Game Night at Fifth Element, the Minneapolis Rhymesayers record store. Game Night was open to the public but it wasnt an open mic. It was me, Karneige and a couple of other emcees that would have a freestyle session for three or four hours usually. It wasnt just free rapping; it was about games we created. So, we used games to work on technique to get better at freestyling. In some games, youd get kicked out! If battling was like that, like a game show or it was more skillfull game about who has the most ability to do these crazy things, I think itd be great because then it would be fun. It is fun for a lot of people, but its also serious for a lot of people. Its fucking nuts when people actually take that shit seriously because its so negative. Its also not incredibly skillful, in my opinion. This is obviously coming from a guy who learned how to do it and did it pretty well. I dont know. Its not artistic enough for me. [Laughs]

DX: Do you really think you were the best?
E:
No. I dont. I dont think I was.

DX: Who do you consider better?
E:
Well, freestyling and battling are different. I think there are better at both. Mikah 9 and Aceyalone, when they were young, their shit was insane. Busdriver is still probably better at freestyling than me. For battle rappers, J.U.I.C.E. and shit like that? Those guys live for that, you know? I was just doing it for fun and to put my name out there so people would listen to First Born.

Nicolay: Nik's Grooving

Many raise their eye brows when they find out that one of Hip Hops most critically acclaimed producers is from the Netherlands. After all, its not often a cat from over seas creates one of the most sought after groups with an emcee from the States to become an elite member and contributor of the Hip Hop culture. Nevertheless, Nicolay, a young producer from the Netherlands, got together with Phonte of Little Brother to form Foreign Exchange which broadened 'Tays appeal and exemplified 'Lays boardsmanship.

After Foreign Exchange, Nicolays career took off at a rapid pace. He started making more and more beats that were placed. His reputable craftsmanship became highly acknowledged and he began working with different artists. Still, Foreign Exchange is coming back, Lays solo album is on the way and we even found out more about falling off and the different Hip Hop cultures that are seen here, in the states, and in other countries around the world.

HipHopDX: I know you're heading out on tour. What do you get from the live aspect of music that makes it different (better or worse) than the studio aspect of music making?
Nicolay:
What I like about doing shows is the contact with the people. Its a much more direct way of sharing the music, its all about the moment whereas in the studio you can keep going back to it until it is exactly how you want it.

DX: What makes the new Foreign Exchange album different from the last?
N:
A lot! But that's something I don't want to get that much further into right now. People will definitely be surprised, but at the same time the album still has a lot of the elements that made people become fans of the first record.

DX: If you could have one emcee (Other than Phonte) rap over your beats, who would that one emcee be?
N:
It would most likely be Kay of The Foundation.

DX: What'd you think of the Little Brother album, overall?
N:
I was very impressed when 'Tay played it for me a while back. I like it a lot, I think the record shows a lot of growth.

DX: As a child, what were you hoping to become? Did those plans pan out or were you planning on stuff outside of music?
N:
I pretty much had dreams of doing something in music, I just didn't know exactly what yet... but yeah a lot of those dreams came true...releasing records, doing shows and getting to travel all over the world, meeting some of my heroes....

DX: Since you are from outside of the US, can you now compare the cultural differences within the Hip Hop communities from in and out of the States? Which do you feel is better? Worse? Why?
N:
I get this question all the time but its comparing apples and oranges. People's mindsets in Europe are very different from People in the states. In Europe, people are used to being very aware of the outside world and cultures and so their tastes are more eclectic, and that goes for Hip Hop too. The genre boundaries are a little less defined. I have learned that a lot of people in the States just don't have that window to the world, they are very much focused on within. I feel that's because of the government not setting the right example.

DX: As a producer, what are some items (equipment) you cannot live without?
N:
Man... My computer, nuf said. My Motif keyboard would be a tough loss, too. Everything would be.

DX: What got you into producing at first? What made that initial attraction to beats explode into the full time occupation it is now? What let you know that you could actually rock next to the best?
N:
Wow. I guess I got attracted to producing for the simple fact that I was tired of playing in bands where you gotta always take four or five other people into consideration and then everything can become a compromise. I wanted to express myself solo for a change. It took me a while to realize that I could hold my own next to pretty much everybody, people around me had to sort of make me aware of that. Nowadays, I'm super confident.

DX: Your success is a testament to success on the internet. But, do you have anything against the internet's use of music and how it has affected the consumer-artist relationship? If not, what would you say to those who are opposed to the internet file sharing and so on?
N:
To me, there's no the internet. The net is such a vast place with so many different levels, and yet there's still a lot of people out there that are not computer-savvy. Its important for artists to realize that while the internet can be an essential tool for promotion, there's a world beyond it that you shouldn't ignore. When it comes to filesharing, its clear that we can't turn that back around anymore. The major label world screwed up on that big time. Had they responded properly to the first successes of Audiogalaxy and Napster, it could have been a much different situation. I personally do not have a problem with people downloading my work to try it out, sort of. Hopefully they will pick up an officially copy if they like it enough.

DX: What advice would you give other up and coming producers?
N:
Take your craft seriously and learn all there is to know. The day that you think you are done paying dues is the day you fall off.

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