Underground Report (Malkovich, K-Salaam & Beatnick)
HipHopDX: How about you introduce yourself for many people are still unfamiliar with you.
Malkovich: Okay. Well, they call me Malkovich. I run Malkovich Music; this is a little personal enterprise I set up a few years ago. Im part of a crew called B.L.X., the Bassline Xcursionists. Were a crew out of L.A. I dont know if you ever heard of Omni, but hes a dude from our click. We got several other cats in the crew. We put a few albums out around the turn of the century. We put an album out in 98 called Vocabudrab Sessions. We put another one out in 2000 called Sunchpunch. And we put another one out in 2001 called Vegans Want Beef. Around that time we were about 10 deep; we did a bunch of shows in L.A., we did tours in America, weve done Hawaii, weve done Japan, Europe we even went to Peru. And once weve gone through all of that and got a little older, we started trying our own solo projects. So I put out a project out a couple years ago called Skeletons. Thats my first solo album; made it into some stores, couple of singles did pretty good. Now I got this mixtape Sicksteens thats tying me over until my next project comes out. But were all from Los Angeles; Ive been in Los Angeles from 16 years now and my whole crew is from L.A. and thats where we stay; thats where were from.
DX: Sixteen years? I didnt know you were there for that long.
M: I came in 1992.
DX: And lived in Europe before that?
M: I lived several years in England. Then I lived in Iran cause thats where my mom is from. And I also lived in Libya, North Africa, for a couple of years. I was in Portugal for a year; couple of other spots in Europe. And I got here in 1992, a month after the riots. It was a real funny time to show up; thats kind of where Hip Hop hit me in the head and thats what led me to be here right now talking to you.
DX: Why the name Malkovich?
M: I always liked the idea behind the movie Being John Malkovich; just the idea of someone in your body that sees what you see and kind of operates you at the same time. Everything I do is different. If you listen to Skeletons, it has nothing to do with Sicksteens. And I can promise you, what you hear from me next has nothing to do with Sicksteens. Nothing in my life has really ever been concrete. I enjoy being able to move around a lot. So the Malkovich thing is kind of like an umbrella that allows me to do whatever I want to do with the music.
DX: What is your aim with Sicksteens?
M: One primary aim: I wanted all my homies on one CD. I just wanted to be able to hit people with one CD: this is my click. At the same time, I wanted to be the one directing in a senseI feel like I know all my boys strength. I wanted to be able to put them on a right beat, get the right responses out of em; at the same time, I love all this old music so much. Its all I listen to; its been like that for years. And I wanted to do something that would bring all of my friends together and also allow me to start fooling around with all this old music. I made a wish list of my favorite rap songs. I just lined them up and I went and found the original records; and we looped them and we tried our best to recreate different songs. For instance, number 10 its a pretty good recreation of a song called Something Like That from N.W.A.s Straight Outta Compton. Every song on Sicksteens references a Hip Hop track and an old school soul track. Except for number 19, Nicaragua, its the brand new shit; its a loop but it doesnt reference any old Hip Hop track.
DX: You took it back as you just said with joints from N.W.A., Nas, Slick Rick. What are your thoughts on the entire take it back to old school vs. keep it current debate?
M: I think its kind of wack. I think that you got to keep shit new. I know its completely hypocritical for me to say that and just have released this. This is something I always wanted to do; I just loved the beats and I wanted to rap over them simple as that. This doesnt mean Im flying the flag for the old school. The old school is the old school, we all love it and thats where we all come from. But its 2008. Thats the reason I dont listen to most of underground independent stuff thats coming out these days because it just sounds like fans making homage to their favorite rap groups. And if Im gonna listen to them, I might as well listen to the originals.
Half of everything you hear has an old school sample in the background. I dont think thats ever gonna change. I dont think me having a CD full of old school rap beats is anything out of the ordinary. This is basically what Ghostface [click to read] does. Ghostface just takes an entire old school soul tracks and just raps over it from the beginning to end even with the guy singing in the background. This is not particularly revolutionary or anything, its just some people prefer to rap over mad current shit for their mixtape and some people prefer to revert back to the older stuff and I fall back into the second category. But the whole old school movement I think is a step backwards.
DX: Whats the Cali scene like right now? Were seeing a lot of diversity in the west coast from The Game to The Grouch, from Del to S.A.S. Any particular trends?
M: Yeah, Detroit has kind of come in and its making a big impact on things. J Dilla moved here a few years ago so he was out here for a couple of years and his stuff was circulating big time. And of course since he died, his fan base has exploded, hes become a saint. And a lot of dudes from Detroit have followed him out here, friends of his and maybe not so close friends of his. And when people come to L.A. from out of town, they come with a mission, they come and they hustle. And these guys are taking over the clubs, and L.A. people are kind of laid back. A lot of guys here kind of got taken by surprise by the Detroit cats who are coming here and kind of monopolizing things. Even down to the sound. A lot of L.A. producers are starting to youre starting to hear that Dilla thing lead into their sound: kick, snare, kick, snare. Thats exactly the previous question you asked, its that copy-cat shit. People are desecrating the Dilla sound out here in L.A.; big time.
DX: Youre half Iranian, half British. Youve traveled to and lived in various places world-wide. How has that shaped you as a person, and an artist?
M: I can see things in a way that other people cant see them. For instance, I have friends who have never left the States; theyve never been off the continent. And I cant imagine being them because America is very isolated. And if youve only been in America, it doesnt matter how many books you read, youre going to be pretty isolated yourself as far as your thinking. I think I got a vantage point not a lot of people have with respect to politics, current affairs; Im a news junkie. I spend at least two hours a day just cruising news sites and reading up as much as I cannot only have I been around, I keep myself up to date. It gives me a real political flavor my next project is going to be really political. Not some on Immortal Technique [click to read] shit, not that angry.
DX: You find him angry?
M: Well yeah, hes definitelywhen you hear him rap, you hear anger. And Ive read his story and Id probably be angry too. Ive read about what hes gone through and I can appreciate that; but thats not where I come from. I might have come from other side of the world but we were never particularly impoverished; my fathers a linguist. A lot of countries we were in, he was teaching
DX: Tell us about your upcoming album.
M: Its due for a release next spring. Its called Flighty. And I named it Flighty because Im flighty and I take lots of flights. [Silence; Laughs] I just realized that I cant commit to anything not a woman, not a career, not a city, not a religion, a race I cant even commit to a lunch item. I cant even decide what I want for lunch. Its a mixture of travel stories and general schizophrenia
DX: We have something in common.
M: Im glad someone can relate. It means I may sell one record[Laughs].
As our foreign policy destroys their countries properly/we demonstrate our power to stimulate our economy. Perhaps Talib Kweli gives the best example of the purpose for the album on track Feel off of K-Salaams and Beatnicks duo debut, Whos World is This? Kwa does what he does best, gets political as he stimulates consciousness on a CD whose visionary producers had a little more than just music in mind: a message. K-Salaam & Beatnick showcase their talents as producers (with an added talent of a deejay and engineer) with the aim of raising the bar in the currently dry, repetitive, and label-controlled world of Hip Hop. And they do so with an intent to stimulate peoples consciousness and shift their attention from the violence, materialism and braggadocio that plagues much of Hip Hop (underground and commercial) to the focus on the world and issues facing humanity. To showcase their talents and further their mission, K-Salaam & Beatnick receive help from some of the most potent artists in Hip Hop and Reggae, including Papoose, Young Buck, Sizzla and Dilated Peoples. HipHopDX sits down with the producers to discuss the making of their album (in stores July 29th), the purpose behind their music and the freshly created Common remixes [click to listen].
HipHopDX: Lets start with the album: What is the concept behind it?
K-Salaam: We wanted to create an album that would spark creative ideas and kind of force people to think for themselves, and use critical thinking rather than just shove ideas down their throat - that one of the main ideas. There [are] other reasons. Number one, theres a lot of garbage music out there; we wanted to make a change. Number two, were both very talented at what we do and we wanted to make our mark in the world, really.
DX: Reggae and Hip Hop are combined in the album. Was that done on purpose or did it come about organically?
Beatnick: We just wanted to make a good album. Were fans of Reggae and Hip Hop to begin with; so I think naturally, it just how it came together.
KS: It wasnt a pre-meditated thing at all. As musicians and as producers, we just wanted to make good music. Thats pretty much what it came down to. We never looked at it as, Hey you know what, lets make a Reggae/ Hip Hop collabo type of thing.
DX: What do you hope to achieve with this album?
B: Theres a couple of things. One, its about the future, and getting people to think for themselves. And really, to spark creativity and get people to be more -
KS: - To teach people that music is more than the garbage theyre hearing right now. To let other people know this is music. This album is what the music is going to sound like in the future if things go the way they should. I feel like and I dont want to sound arrogant, but me and Beatnick are a little bit ahead of the curve. Good music is good music; it doesnt have to be boring and we dont have to settle for just anything. It kind of raises the bar and gives you something back. Not just the message - obviously theres a message here; but music is something we want you to walk away with.
DX: There is a diverse group of features on the album, from Young Buck to Kweli, from Sizzla to Saigon. What criteria did was used for choosing artists?
KS: It came to a couple different things. Number one, we wrote down the bigger artists, thought about how to get a hold of them; and it partially came to that. As the album started developing, a lot of people started coming to us, and a lot of the relationships we just naturally started creating. We ended up giving a track to Sha Money XL [click to read]; Young Buck [click to read] heard it and wanted to get down with what we were doing. Its a mixture of going after artists, and us making moves and artists gravitating to us because they were feelin the music and feelin the movement.
DX: How did K-Salaam and Beatnick first hook up? And how did you develop your creation process?
B: We met in the Twin Cities and started working on what became a Saigon [click to read] track; that was the first thing we worked on and it worked so well. We have good musical chemistry. Hes more the dude that foresees the production as far as structuring. Hes got a deejay background so hes good at that; I play instruments and more the hands-on production. So it blends well together.
KS: Some of the tracks Beatnick would do himself, some wed do together. Some hed do and Id put my two cents in. Most of the hooks we wrote together. Im more of the person that comes up with the hook ideas; hes more the beat maker and engineer. Im more the person that structures the album, kind of helps structure songs if they need help. Thats pretty much how its done.
DX: B, what instruments do you play?
B: Guitar is my main instrument. I play base, keyboard, a lot of percussion and just basically anything I can get my hands on.
DX: Where does your instrumental background come from?
B: I have a very musical family so its kind of natural. My grandpas actually a Jazz arranger and composer; pretty similar in the way we do things actually.
DX: Are you guys influenced by Reggae rhythms or have the Reggae artists featured on the album influence some of the beats?
B: Reggae is definitely a part of who we are. It just comes out naturally in the music.
KS: This is music, whatever mood were in it really just depends [on] what mood were in. On this album we were working with a lot of Reggae artists and we were doing a lot of tracks with that style. We dont really separate music. A lot of people say that but kind of say it as a gimmick. If you actually listen to the album from front to back, youll realize Okay, this is real. Its all cohesive. You got people from down south, you got people from New York, you got people from Jamaica it doesnt really matter because its all under the umbrella of music.
DX: Some of the beats sounded as though they could have been sampled. Were samples used at all?
B: No, its all pretty much instrumentals. In general, the style we I try and think of when Im making a beat from scratch and playing all the instruments, I think Okay if I were to put a needle on the record and I would hear the perfect sample, what would I want to hear? Okay, Id want to use something like this with the guitar, so it ends up sounding like a sample because thats what we were striving for.
DX: A lot of freedom concepts on the album. Is there a political motivation in day-to-day life?
KS: YeahI dont know about politically motivated. The struggle is around everybody. Im motivated by the fact that things are really messed up right now and I want to do something about it as long as Im alive. I feel like this gift put us here to make beats really, and we can use that in other ways
DX: Youre also passionate about Palestine. What brought that on?
KS: Just the fact that theyre getting screwed over and nobodys talking about it; its pissing me off. Its probably one of the worst forms of oppression going on right now and everybodys just accepting it as [though] its Okay? Im not cool with that.
DX: Lets touch up on the remixes for Common.
B: We made our own production under the acapellas that were already out there.
DX: Why choose Common?
KS: We just felt like hes one of the people that people havent really done that [with] yet. And were huge fans of him as a lyricist. And we just thought that it would show itd be a good way to highlight our production skills.
B: And his song structure is
B: Yeah, and its also a challenge. Because a lot of his verses are not likeeveryone usually does 16 bar verses and everything is structured in fours and eights. He does things a little differently; he doesnt follow that so its kind of a challenge actually.
DX: Current trends in Hip Hop?
KS: I think slowly within the last month Ive seen some good music coming out.
B: As a whole, the bar is very, very low.
KS: But in the last month though, change is coming up; and I feel like were at the forefront of it.
DX: In what way has the bar lowered?
B: A lot of things came together at the wrong time. The labels got a hold of it and kind of raped it and depleted anything that was worthwhile. The Internet came along its good and bad. A lot of things just came together at the wrong time.
DX: You said the labels are the to blame; where are the fans in all of this?
K: Thats a good question. More so the labels, the corporations that are behind the labels but the fans when you accept thatits just like whether youre an activist, when you accept something, that becomes the norm. So if you accept people somewhere that are getting killed or you accept horrible music to be out there, youre not gonna demand something better; youre not gonna get anything better. So the fans are a part of it as well. Myself and Beatnick, were fans of the music. And as fans we said what can we do? Lets put out an album rather than just me deejaying and him getting beats in the basement and talking about how good we are. Why dont we just take it to the next level, move to New York, put out an album because the world needs to hear this? As fans, we would appreciate this. So thats what fans need to do do something about it.