The Year Of The Showoff, Part 2
STOP, LOOK, LISTEN
Statik Selektah’s evolution from mixtape/radio deejay to in-demand producer for Hip Hop’s elite wordsmiths happened quite rapidly. While having been a record spinner since his mid-‘90s middle-school years, Statik didn’t make the move from behind the one’s and two’s to behind the boards until just a few years ago. “I started running out of music to play honestly,” he explains of his transition from turntablist to trackmaster. “I got to the point where I couldn’t do [traditional] mixtapes anymore… I used to do the Spell My Name Right series that were like – there’s 10 volumes of them – and I’d do the Manhattan [Clothing Mix] CDs... And it got to the point where I had to stop, I couldn’t find any music! Like literally, I couldn’t fill up the [mix] CD once a month with new music.”
The dwindling amount of non-freestyle Hip Hop joints being cranked out in the wake of 50 Cent’s transformation of the mixtape game forced Statik to shift from focusing on cutting and blending to concentrating on creating his own original backdrops. With only one real production credit on his resume prior to 2004, (for the pedestrian-sounding “Work” on Reks’ 2001 debut LP), Statik began crafting remixes for the notable names he was working with via mixtape at the time including Nas (the remix of “WiseGuys”), Royce Da 5’9” (the Big Pun, Big L, Biggie and 2Pac-assisted “Inspiration” remix of “Hip Hop”), and Method Man (the Showoff remix of “What’s Happenin”). Using those tracks to attract attention to his burgeoning beat-making, Statik decided to commit to producing full-time, away from mixtape-originated production, around 2006. “[That’s] when I was like, ‘You know what? I’ma sit down and actually make beats with my time,’” he notes. “That’s when I started really learning Pro Tools. I didn’t know how to mix or anything then. Between 2006 and 2007 I taught myself ProTools, all that. And by that time I was mixing my own records.”
Although Statik had attended The New England Institute of Arts from 2000-2002 studying audio production, he confesses he left the school with degree-in-hand not knowing how to use the industry-standard software in an applicable way. “That’s a disgrace,” he admits. “My ProTools teacher should be fired for that shit. He was a asshole anyway… When I bought [ProTools] again, I had to teach myself everything! [The school teaches you] basic stuff like press and record, but they never taught you compression or like actual mixing. They just teach you how to like bus stuff, and I don’t even use that! They teach you a bunch of stuff that the industry thinks that you should know. But, I think when it comes down to being a real producer, or even an engineer or a musician; it comes down to your own flavor, the way you do things. If it comes out sounding great, then who cares.”
Statik’s artists are in agreement that their primary audio provider is definitely sounding great these days. “He’s leaps and bounds beyond [where] he was back then,” gushes Reks when speaking about Statik’s growth as a beat-maker in the years since “Work.” Statik’s once most vocal critic, Termanology, also acknowledges his producer’s progression. “He’s a mad scientist,” Term declares now of Stat. “He takes a lot of stuff from [DJ Premier] and [J] Dilla, and I even say the RZA. But he’s so creative [with those influences]. He’s an insane guy. Like, he’s crazy! Anybody that knows him, that’s been to his house, or been to the Showoff basement [in Brooklyn]… He just makes magic in there.”
No further proof of Statik’s magical development over the last few years is needed beyond “Eighty-Two,” the hypnotic chime-laden 100 Proof album cut/preview of the forthcoming full-length Statik Selektah and Termanlogy are 1982.
HOW WE ROCK
Due this summer, Statik and Termanology’s debut full-length as a duo promises to officially mark the arrival of the most noteworthy emcee/deejay tag team to emerge from the New England area since Gang Starr hit the national scene a little over 20 years ago. Having first formally worked together for the dark, Statik-produced head-nodder “Can’t Turn Back” from the third installment in Term’s Hood Politics mix series, and next for the soulful, horn-blessed banger “Think It Over” (which first appeared as the B-side to Term’s ’06 12-inch “Watch How It Go Down,” and later on the fourth volume of Hood Politics), their subsequent decision to unite for a full album was initiated by Statik’s fondness for those initial works as a twosome, as well as the beat-maker’s newfound assuredness as a musical maestro.
“Statik’s real confident in his work,” explains Term. “He’ll always be like, ‘Yo, we’re the best…nobody makes beats better than me, dog. I’m the illest.’ He always be on that shit. And with him believing in me as a rapper, he was like, ‘I think we have a chance to make a Hip Hop classic, so let’s do it.’ So I was like, ‘Hell yeah.’”
So named for their shared year of birth, Statik Selektah and Termanlogy are 1982 will hopefully prove to be the classic effort Stat predicted it to be. As of now it looks as though the project might mirror Gang Starr’s stellar ’98 LP Moment Of Truth. Much like Statik and Term’s regional forefathers did with their fifth full-length, 1982 appear to be polishing their underground sound for a more mainstream audience ala what DJ Premier and Guru did via their standout collaboration with Jodeci, “Royalty.” “We got two like radio hits, like crossover hits, but they’re still raw,” says Statik. “The beats are still boom-bap, but they’re like hit records.” Those planned hits from the 1982 project include “The Radio,” “Wedding Bells” (which features Polow Da Don protégé Jared Evan crooning the song’s chorus) and “You Should Go Home” featuring DXnext alum, singer (and Boston native now signed to Rick Ross’ Maybach Music) Masspike Miles and according to Statik “a major rapper, but I’m not gonna say [who] until everything’s taken care of.”
While the 1982 album will still boast plenty of tracks sporting Stat and Term’s traditional raw sound, (including a retooled version of the previously-leaked “Thugathon” now featuring both Lil Fame and Billy Danze of M.O.P. alongside a new Termanology verse), it’s clear that with the project Statik will be signaling his move beyond the boundaries of boom-bap as he develops a more elaborate sound like that heard recently on The Green Ghost Project via Styles P’s “Shadows” . “It’s all old,” Statik reveals of the beat-work heard on his just-released third compilation effort, 100 Proof (The Hangover). “The beats are like eight, nine months old. There’s nothing new on it in my eyes, but it’s new to the world. So like, after this you’re gonna start seeing my whole new sound. Like on 1982, there’s like a whole new sound.”
Fans of Statik’s “old” sound can currently bask in the gloriously rugged beats heard on 100 Proof cuts like the Saigon, Sean Price and Lil Fame helmed “Critically Acclaimed” and the Freeway-led “Night People” . “The whole point of the album, The Hangover, is like you wake up to reality,” Statik explains of the theme uniting the 16 top-notch tracks comprising his star-studded new album. “I just feel like…people are living irresponsibly – and I do it too, I’ll go out to the club and spend a couple hundred dollars. But I wake up in the morning with a headache. The Hangover is like back to reality. So that’s kind of what this album is…it’s a lot of dark shit where people talk about repercussions – either drunk driving or like smoking too much weed. It’s just a reality check for a lot of people.”
The Showoff squad has recently begun receiving their own reality check of sorts, as they are forced to realize just how hated they’ve become by some during their recent rise to most prominent Rap crew in their region. “[Statik’s progress] created the opportunity for a lot of us,” says Reks. “And that’s why I get so fuckin’ heated when I hear a lot of muthafuckas back home not giving him his just due.”
Roughly 30 minutes north of Boston, Lawrence, Massachusetts is the home base of almost the entire Showoff team. “It doesn’t really get a lot of shine,” says Termanology of Lawtown. “That’s why we go so hard wit’ reppin’ it now.”
“It’s just a coincidence we’re all from the same place,” adds Statik of his Lawrence-birthed crew. “Me and Term were born in the same hospital [Lawrence General], the same year. It’s bugged-out how like certain people reppin’ for the Boston area are from [Lawrence] – Not everybody, you got other cats in Boston doing their thing, but a grip of ‘em are from Lawrence when it comes down to me, Term, Reks, Krumbsnatcha, Scientifik – rest in peace.” There are those in Beantown however that think it’s more than just a coincidence that the newest flag-bearers for the Boston Hip Hop scene are not even from that traditional epicenter of the region they rep. “That’s like some shit as of recently where like a lot of the dudes [from] inner city Boston try saying it’s not Boston, or they can’t rep Boston,” explains Statik dismissively. “That’s all new shit. Back in the day, like in the ‘90s, Edo G would rock with either Krumb or like any of these [other Lawrence] guys the same way. Just ‘cause [we’re] from a half-an-hour away, who cares? It’s still the same area. Think how Snoop [Dogg] reps L.A. Long Beach is like 35 minutes away from L.A.”
Statik insists that regardless of Showoff’s Lawtown roots his movement is definitely the new face of Boston Hip Hop nationwide, whether detractors wish to accept that reality or not. “We’ve probably done more shows in Boston than anyone from Boston, with the exception of like an Edo G or Akrobatik,” he explains of Showoff’s paid dues in Beantown. “Dog, I’ve rocked at The Middle East, pshhh, at least a hundred times. I did Bill’s Bar like 75 times. Everywhere in Boston, I’ve deejayed. I was doing Karma every week, The Sugar Shack, like everything in Boston we’ve rocked. We’ve paid more dues – I’m not gonna say more dues; we’ve paid as much dues as anyone there.”
“We rep Beantown, we rep Lawtown, we rep home all day,” reiterates Reks of his crew’s promotion of Mass to the nation. “And it pisses us off when there should be so much [more] respect for what [Statik] is bringin’ to the game and allowing opportunity for muthafuckas to [have] a light on our home. And instead of showing love, there’s certain individuals back home who just can’t see another muthafucka get on.”
While when asked neither Reks nor Termanology believed race was a driving force behind the hate the uniquely multi-racial crew receive, Term does believe that the origin of their detractors disdain for the Showoff squad lies simply with their success. “The only reason that we’re getting hate is because we’re doing something that’s never been done before,” he explains. “We’re taking an area that’s never been blown up and putting it in the XXL…putting it on HipHopDX… It’s monumental because people from Boston don’t do that, especially people from Lawrence. ‘Cause we’re less blown up than Boston. Boston already blew up before us, due to like Edo G and Benzino and all the rappers that came before us. So like, we’re just doing something that’s so major, and that’s where the hate is [coming from].” Although at times irritating, Term believes that hometown hate is no more prominent in Boston than in every crabs-in-a-bucket local scene and that statewide unity is apparent, in part thanks to his own efforts. “For me, I try to bring the whole Mass together,” he notes. “I did this record called ‘Mass-As-A-Nation,’ and it was 36 rappers from…all the areas to bring us together. ‘Cause I’m positive, man. I’d rather see everybody get rich and blowup rather than everybody beef.”
Even with unity in the Commonwealth clear amongst most area artists, the regional haters that still remain in-and-outside the artist community will likely scoff at Showoff’s newest addition, or more specifically where he hails from. “We call him Kali ‘cause he grew up in ‘Cali, he spent a lot of his life there, but he’s originally from like Lawrence too,” explains Statik of his latest signee from Lawtown, who makes his introduction to most Hip Hop listeners via three 100 Proof tracks. Statik cites the laidback “Rollin’ Down The Freeway” (featuring Glasses Malone), from Statik’s EP for “The Lost and Damned” edition of Grand Theft Auto IV released this past October, as a good sampling of what Showoff supporters should expect to hear from Kali in the future. And although the Statik-produced “Cali Kali,” (included in Kali’s Statik-helmed summer ’09 mix Hotel Kalifornia), is definitively east coast-ish with its boom-bap sound and accompanying Biggie vocal sample, Statik says that Showoff’s bicoastal spitter will be bringing a different vibe to the hardcore Hip Hop crew. “[His music is] not as west coast as like a Nipsey Hussle, but it’s like a mix between west and east,” explains Statik of Kali. “A lot of the production will be more party-ish, like good-feeling stuff. It won’t be as much boom-bap. It’ll be more Drake than it is Reks.”
ALL 2GETHER NOW
Whether or not Kali’s good-feeling sound connects with fans of Reks and Termanology will largely hinge on the work put in by the small-but-determined group of Statik’s business comrades that comprise Showoff’s music and marketing sides to build awareness to their westside connection.
Showoff’s music side is headed up by Statik, along with artist/entrepreneur J.F.K. and Statik’s onetime high school classmate, and former Granite State manager, J.P. Callahan. “Him and J.F.K., they’re kinda like financiers, people who stepped up to the plate with some cash and we’re willing to put it up [to get the Showoff record label going],” explains Walace Nogueira, Jr.
Still flourishing after seven years, Showoff’s marketing operation is led by Walace (a/k/a Wally Gramz, who also doubles as Reks’ manager) and Brandon Matthews (who has been with Statik since the ’03 inception of Showoff Marketing, and who also handles record promotion for the label as well as working as Statik’s right-hand man in New York). “We’re all kind of floaters really,” replies Matthews when asked what his formal position with the company is. “No one really has an official title. We all own different aspects of the company. But there’s no person that would say, ‘Oh well this person is just marketing,’ or this person is just this or is just that. It’s pretty much a collaborative effort.”
Showoff boasts a remarkably dedicated team where all half-dozen or so staffers, on both the music and marketing ends, chip in with the day-to-day duties of the business however they can. “But as far as like the actual A&Ring and stuff like that, I handle most of that and [Termanology’s manager] Dan Green does a lot of stuff,” Statik explains.
It hopefully won’t prove to be an exact comparison, but given his hardened past and financier/co-lead role in Showoff, it seems apt to designate J.F.K. the Suge Knight to Statik’s Dr. Dre in the label’s operations. “It’s not even me trying to be a hard guy,” replies J.F.K. in response to that comparison, “‘cause I don’t believe in that… A lot of people think they gotta be tough guys and act a certain way [in this business but] it’s all about just being you.”
The Lynn, Massachusetts native’s history in the Beantown-area music scene dates back to 1992, when then known as The Double R he and his now deceased partner-in-rhyme Moon Dog surfaced as the duo A.W.O.L. (All Walks Of Life). The tag team nabbed a single deal with Blunt/TVT Records but the label shelved the duo’s debut 12” before it could be formally released. “It was like right when Channel Live was getting on Blunt Records,” recalls J.F.K. “We almost signed a deal with them, and they were going through TVT. I was real young; I was like 16. But we had three videos; we were in and out of studios… It’s funny that we was against music like [Marky Mark & The Funky Bunch], and now Mark Wahlberg is a real good friend of mine.”
A.W.O.L.’s history in the Rap game proved to be short-lived as J.F.K. reverted back to the street life he had abandoned during his group’s push towards national notoriety and was subsequently sentenced in the mid-‘90s to five years in prison. Upon his final freedom from any obligations to the Massachusetts justice system in late 2001, J.F.K. resumed his Rap career, releasing a self-distributed project entitled Pay Attention under the moniker II W/Regret (Twice With Regret) in 2003. Following that release, and while putting in work on what would have been his first effort as J.F.K. (which stands for “Justice For the Kids”) for the game of Wisp-inspired No Trump, he befriended his now business partner. “I had Statik on [No Trump] as a producer,” he explains. “And I did a video for a song called ‘Day After Day,’ and it was dedicated to my father. The ‘Day After Day’ stood for ‘dad.’ [The video] kinda got Statik’s attention, with the quality of the video that I made, the music… That got Statik’s attention, me and Statik hooked up, and we became partners. We realized with my mind and all the knowledge that I have, my hunger, my drive, and what I put into my label as far as money and stress, why not join together and just have one big label that just takes over the world.”
Officially joining the Showoff team shortly after the ’07 release of Statik’s first album, J.F.K. subsequently made his introduction as a Showoff artist on “Sounds Of The Street” from Statik’s second compilation release, 2008’s Stick 2 The Script.
J.F.K. is currently prepping his almost entirely Statik-produced debut LP for Showoff, which sports guest spots from the whole Showoff squad. “There’s a lot of jail stories and shit like that,” explains Statik of 1,000 Days In Office. “He comes from that mentality. It’s a real like street-conscious album, but it’s not some preachy shit.”
Due later this year, J.F.K.’s 1,000 Days In Office is a concept album of sorts inspired by the 35th President’s assassination-abbreviated term in office, as Statik explains, “The whole concept behind it is J.F.K. is not the kinda cat that wants to keep doing this forever and put out 90 albums. He wants to be in, probably do one album and then be out. He just basically doesn’t wanna be a rapper his whole life. He don’t wanna be 40-years-old being a rapper. He wants to put this album out as like his masterpiece…and say what he wants to say on it and then keep it moving and be behind the scenes.”
The newest movement behind the scenes at Showoff is the recently launched digital arm of the label. “The forefront of that would be Kali,” notes Statik. “He’s signed to Showoff Digital. And that’ll be a whole different part of the label… I look at the Showoff Digital thing as an opportunity where we can sign like up-and-coming artists and they can prove themselves.” Providing rising rookies from all regions of the country with access to iTunes retailing and navigation through the rest of the digital music matrix, while foregoing CD distribution (and subsequently minimizing any loss of investment funding for new artists that likely won’t initially scan impressive numbers of physical units), is Statik’s stated game plan for his forward-thinking digital brand.
Statik will also be lessening his own hectic production schedule when it comes to Showoff Digital by sidestepping the board-work for most of the sub-label’s releases. “Another person I will be working with is Jon Hope,” notes Statik of the Rhode Island rhymer, “he’ll be definitely coming out through Showoff Digital. See he’s the kinda cat that’ll bring me projects that are done and he has dope producers behind them. I need people like that to where we can just be the outlet for them. I don’t really have time to – It’s not a matter of priority or anything, it’s just literally I don’t have time to be able to produce all kinds of artists like that.”
Statik simply doesn’t have the time needed to oversee entire projects for new artists because his current commitments to craft tracks for the biggest names in independent Hip Hop are keeping him more than busy. One of those working commitments is to frequent Showoff collaborator Lil’ Fame of M.O.P., who might just be joining the label’s roster in the near future. “The contract’s not signed, but it’s definitely – He wants us to put out his solo album, so I’d love to do that [deal with him],” says Statik.
While a Showoff-sponsored Lil Fame project is still technically tentative, a slew of upcoming collaborative albums have been confirmed featuring Statik’s tantalizing track-work married to the microphone talents of Bahamadia (a preview of that union can be heard via “Do What I Believe” from the collection of 100 Proof leftover goodies released in advance of the album, The Pre-Game EP), Sean Price (a joint Showoff/Duck Down project tentatively-titled Andrew Price Clay), Justus League member Joe Scudda (for the tentatively-titled Open Bar), Souls Of Mischief (whose soul-tinged standout from 100 Proof, “Laughin,” is proof of a fruitful union to come between Statik and the Bay Area veterans), and Saigon (who will soon be spending another 24-hour studio session with Statik to record All In Another Day, the follow-up to last year’s All In A Day’s Work). “The Showoff logo’ll be on any album I produce in entirety, and branded that way,” Statik explains of how all his hard work will pay off for Showoff. “It’s more like a movement, you know what I mean? But it’s definitely a full-functioning label too… I consider Premo and Pete Rock and all of these other guys part of the [Showoff] movement. I don’t really know how to describe [this movement], it’s just there’s not a lot of like just quality raw Hip Hop coming out. The shit that is [quality] is affiliated through us in one way or another whether it’s Q-Tip or Consequence or someone like that.”
Logo branding aside, it is currently unclear if Showoff will be the beneficiary of more than just movement progression and actually see direct proceeds from Statik’s collabo projects or just cede distribution duties to the label homes of the artists Statik is partnering with. While the self-motivated Termanology releases his solo projects through his own ST. Records, current distribution for Statik and Reks’ Showoff projects is handled by Boston-based label Brick Records (which in turn is distributed by the recently formed partnership between independent powerhouses Traffic Entertainment and The Orchard). But that business arrangement may soon be changing as Showoff aims to secure more lucrative indie distribution to provide more money to work with while taking Statik’s label to that proverbial next level.
Whatever distribution home, (or homes), Statik settles on for future label releases, he is adamant about keeping Showoff Records an independent operation. However, as recently as late 2007 Statik was forecasting to HipHopDX that Showoff was “definitely gonna have a label deal within the next six months, a major distribution deal…” “Everything has completely changed since I made that statement,” he now says. “Like the whole entire industry is just way different. And I wouldn’t even do it with a major [label] anymore. I would possibly [partner] with someone like a Koch – that’s Koch distribution, not Koch Records. Like someone like that, or like maybe [directly through] The Orchard… It’d be a situation like that; it definitely wouldn’t be with a major label. ‘Cause I mean, they’re hurting as it is. Every label’s letting people go… I don’t believe in the [major-label] system anymore.”
Showoff is now proudly following Duck Down Records’ indie blueprint of branding an internal movement while working with external artists for joint releases. “Duck Down’s an amazing company to set your model from,” says Statik. “It’s amazing what they’re doing. Like, Sean Price will come out and sell 35,000 copies [independently]. In today’s world, that’s crazy! That’s a huge success. I would love to be able to do that.”
With low first-week sales for 100 Proof (the album unfortunately failed to crack the Soundscan Top 200 Albums Chart), it sadly looks as though Statik and company still have their work cut out for them if they hope to brand Showoff as a movement that tens of thousands of fans should support faithfully. But the label’s current sales struggles don’t seem to faze Statik. While he laments the seemingly never-ending fascination fans have with Soundscan numbers and radio spins, he seems confident that Showoff will soon mirror other successful indie labels by emulating their approach to cultivating loyal fanbases who drive concert ticket sales and digital downloads. “Look at [a label] like Rhymesayers, they’re literally grossing millions of dollars off independent projects,” says Statik. “You think they give a fuck about BDS? You think they care about first-week sales? It doesn’t matter, because they tour and they support their projects.”
NO HOLDING BACK
With a Rik Cordero-directed clip for the Bun B and Wale-helmed lead single from 100 Proof, “So Close, So Far,” to soon be pushed to MTV in an attempt to capitalize on the song’s commercial-friendly smoothness, Statik appears determined to push Showoff to a bigger stage. He’s even going so far as pledging to make 100 Proof his last compilation effort until Hip Hop’s heavyweight artists show support for the Showoff movement. “The next album I do, it’s gonna be monumental,” says Statik. “I’m not gonna drop it unless I have Jay-Z and Nas or some shit like that.”
Until Hova comes calling, Statik will have to take comfort in knowing that less-mainstream legends like Reflection Eternal still seek out his services, (both as a deejay and producer), like the duo did for their recent Re:Union mixtape.
Statik can also seek solace from Showoff’s difficulties in reaching a larger audience in knowing that he is now officially one of the most trusted trackmasters to deliver quality soundbeds to Hip Hop’s independent kings. Whether supplying veterans like Styles P and Talib Kweli with the irresistible piano-guided production for 100 Proof jewel “The Thrill Is Gone” , or lacing comparative newcomers Reks and Freddie Gibbs with the cinematic track for the lead leak from Reks’ just-released, collab-heavy, mixtape, In Between The Lines, “God Damn!” , Statik is showing and proving his worth to what’s left in 2010 of the respectable Hip Hop game.
And while it may not look like it from reading Soundscan, Reks believes 2010 will in fact prove to be Statik and Showoff’s breakthrough year. After explaining that Statik’s first two full-length’s, along with his own Grey Hairs and More Grey Hairs, were merely warning shots of Showoff’s coming takeover, Reks reveals, “And now we feel like we’re in the position where we’ve proven ourself over and over with several projects. I think it’s time for us to really show what we made of, push it forward, get the ‘Year of the Showoff’ really in effect.” When asked if Reks’ chest-thumping banger from More Grey Hairs, “Year of the Showoff” , that the supreme spitter references is an adequate assessment of where his team stands at in the early weeks of 2010, Statik replies with confident coolness, “Nah, I think it’s more like ‘Decade of the Showoff.’”