Like fellow underground Hip Hop production icons Madlib and Ant, Stoupe The Enemy of Mankind is infamously reclusive for interviews, but his music speaks for itself.
As the production half of indie rap staple Jedi Mind Tricks, his array of intricate, layered backdrops are as enigmatic as they are compelling. After years of lacing the likes of JMT emcee Vinnie Paz, Canibus and Guru, the Philly producer plunges into Trip Hop with A Bright Cold Day, his album with singer Liz Fullerton as the duo Dutch. It turns out that Stoupe hardly comes across as an enemy, but a humorously shy, humble musical savant as talks about past and present projects, and tries to decipher the success of Jedi Mind Tricks.
HipHopDX: You seem like a friendly, cool-ass dude. So why don’t you do interviews?
Stoupe: 'Cause I’m bad at them.
Stoupe: I’m not the front person of [Jedi Mind Tricks, Dutch or Army of Pharaohs]. I guess the front person is the one who does all the talking. What do they call that? The front? The head?
DX: The front man.
Stoupe: Yeah, the front man. I guess that’s the person who should usually be doing the interviews.
DX: That’s funny because in general on the albums, Vinnie is the front man from a personality stand point, but artistically, your beats add as much to the album as he does, maybe even more.
Stoupe: I like that you said that, lack of personality. That’s probably another reason why I don’t get any interviews. [Laughs]
DX: So is that also why you don’t show your face a lot too? It’s just sort of whatever?
Stoupe: Nah, that’s because I’m so handsome. I’m trying to let everyone else get the girls. No, but I’ve never seen one picture I look good in, maybe because I don’t. So that’s why. I’m shy, I guess that’s why.
DX: I wouldn’t think you’re that shy, because your beats normally aren’t that reserved. Your beats are real robust.
Stoupe: You think?
DX: Yeah. They just seem to have a lot of personality to me.
Stoupe: That’s to cover the lack of real personality. You’d have to make up for it, I don’t know.
DX: Well, one thing about your discography is that you have a good amount of material, but you only work with certain artists. How do you decide who you want to work with?
Stoupe: Well basically, I don’t know how to answer that question. I guess I just get so much time to work on the record that I have to choose from there. I have a regular job, so I don’t get that much time to make a record. I guess I’m just selective, because I can only work with one person for three years. So when you have the time to do it, it’s like that.
DX: Granted you only get to work with limited people, but how do you actually decide who gets to work with you?
Stoupe: Mostly, it’s just who wants to work with me. I don’t have too many people asking to work with me. With Vinnie [Paz], it was just as children, we were friends growing up and that was one thing. And then I guess the next person I’m working with is Liz [Fullerton], and that was based on her ability to, I guess, bring something to a project. I haven’t really worked with anybody between then.
DX: So what do you think it is about you and Vinnie that makes you guys mesh so well musically? Do you think it’s just because grew up together?
Stoupe: I think Vinnie has a great ability to adapt. If I have three different styles of songs, he can write an appropriate verse to each one. It’s nothing except that he has that talent to do that. I don’t know what that word is, but not too many people can do that. He could be just a mad spitter, but that’s what they do. It would be hard to do one song for Vinnie, and then a completely different song for another [emcee]. They need to compliment what I’m doing.
DX: I feel the same way because he can do joints where he is just spazzing and he can do a storytelling joint. But it’s interesting because it seems like people pigeon hole you all for making a certain type of music. Have you seen that same thing?
Stoupe: Of course, yeah.
DX: So is that frustrating to you?
Stoupe: I can understand why people would get frustrated by that, but then I get people who can separate it. Like, one person could listen and think this song has a great beat, and then another person could listen to the same song and think it’s kind of fast-paced, and then another person could think something totally different about the same song.
DX: So you and Vinnie can make different types of songs together, but what is your favorite type of song to make with him? Or better yet, what is your favorite song that you’ve made with him? Do you have one?
Stoupe: I don’t know right now, but that’s a good question. Probably one of the concept ones.
DX: My editor pointed out something to me that I had never realized. You guys have chart success with your albums. You guys crack the Billboard 200 with your albums, which a lot of underground and indie artists don’t normally do, even the more successful ones. What do you think it is about your material that allows you guys to do that?
Stoupe: I have no idea, do you?
Stoupe: Yeah I have no clue. I don’t think we try to fit a formula to do that either. I guess we’re just lucky. Like you were saying two seconds ago, with some of the topics we discuss, I’m surprised we crack that. It seems like such a mainstream thing, but I guess that’s why you brought it up. I have no clue.
DX: But granted, it sometimes depends on the fact that a lot of indie acts have fans that know they’re indie, so they make it a point to support them.
Stoupe: Yeah that could be it. We have great fans, because you don’t have to buy anything these days. And with [Dutch's A Bright Cold Day], I don’t know if people will be as into it, if they’re fans of Jedi Mind Tricks. Some of them might still just buy it to support. And it’s the only way, on my behalf, that I would get money from doing music. So fans are pretty cool like that. But I think we try hard too.
DX: And you guys are also pretty consistent. You guys have had an album come out every few years since you’ve been out. What was your history with music like before you started working with Vinnie? Like, did you have any musical classes? Because your music has a lot of different elements
Stoupe: It’s just self-taught. Continuously teaching and learning.
DX: Have you taught yourself any instruments or are you an aficionado for different movies? Because your stuff has a lot of different samples and instruments. It’s not just a matter of you looping shit.
Stoupe: Like for example, me and my friend went into a store and saw an accordion, and now I just want one to have so I can beat up the keys and put that sound on a record. That’s how I get interested in using different sounds. I’m a big fan of sounds.
DX: Where do you look for your styles and sounds?
Stoupe: Everywhere. You can find me in street. I’m trying to do this EQ. Well, I’m trying to do this video now, where I try to show how I get sounds from nature and stuff.
DX: So the video is going to show where you get your sounds from?
Stoupe: I don’t know. I’m going to try and make sure that it comes across to show how I do it.
DX: It seems like your stuff has a lot of random movie samples, and it just seems like there’s a lot of different places that it comes from.
Stoupe: Yeah, I mean if you want a dope plane sound, go the airport and get it yourself.
DX: [Laughs] Now what type of stuff were you listening to when you were trying to get your style?
Stoupe: I listen to everything. There’s nothing that I won’t listen to. It can come from anywhere.
DX: Like you said, you’ve worked with Vinnie and you’ve worked with Liz on this new project. Are there any other emcees that you think would fit your style, that you would do an album with if you had the chance to?
Stoupe: I’d like to do albums with a lot of people. It’s just hard to get it working. Do you have any ideas?
DX: Nah. It would be Canibus, but you already did that. It’s really hard to think about actually.
Stoupe: I’m trying to do a remix project, and it’s hard getting emcees to do that.
DX: Really? Having trouble getting emcees to sign on, or finding acapellas?
Stoupe: Just getting them on, and then it could just be a free thing to put out. Do you know anybody out there I could get?
DX: In Michigan?
DX: Let me think….ever heard of Guilty Simpson?
Stoupe: Yeah, I think he’s already famous. But he’s really dope.
DX: It’s hard to think of rappers that could fit the style I know you for. But you did get to work with Guru, right?
DX: Did you actually get to work in the studio with him?
Stoupe: Nah, I never worked with [Guru or Canibus] in a studio, but he called me up and introduced himself. Really cool dude, it seemed, from the whole time I got to talk to him.
DX: How did you link with Canibus?
Stoupe: I really didn’t. [Babygrande Records] just had a CD and I was asked to remix it.
DX: Wow, so you just had the vocals and then added music to them?
Stoupe: That’s about it. I had a month to do [Rip The Jacker]. I can’t say I did much, those are my real feelings. But I had a month to do those remixes, and then I had to give it to the record company.
DX: Have you done any other albums like that?
Stoupe: [Laughs] Most are, but I usually have more time. Even the other records, it’s the same shit. It’s limited time, low budget, and you have to do it quick.
DX: That’s crazy because a lot of people see Rip The Jacker as Canibus’ best album. It shows what he can really do. And a lot of people think you’re the one of the only producers who gives him the beats that really fit him. So the fact that you only had a month to do it, and that you weren’t even in the studio with him is crazy.
Stoupe: Yeah that’s all I remember, just the CD. And they said here, go do it. He didn’t even give me the CD, someone else tried to.
DX: That is a trip.
Stoupe: Yeah, but he’s done a lot of dope stuff since then. I disagree [that Rip The Jacker is his best album], I think there’s a lot of producers he could work with.
DX: Yeah, but a lot of people think you’re the only one who captured it for him. But he does have some stuff with DJ Premier that I haven’t heard, but I heard it’s dope.
Stoupe: It has to be dope if it’s [DJ Premier]. I haven’t heard from him in while.
DX: Oh Premo’s been killin shit for the past few years. He’s just been more quality over quantity. He doesn’t do a lot of stuff, but the stuff that he does is crazy.
Stoupe: I need to pay more attention.
DX: Yeah, dude is dope. Okay, so I heard some of the new Dutch album. How did you meet up with her?
Stoupe: She was a mutual friend. People knew for a while that I’ve been looking to do a different kind of project, and introduced me to her. And it worked. She was a cool chick, so we said, "Let’s do it." It took longer than I wanted, but we did it. She moved out here from California and did the record.
DX: This is your first project with a vocalist instead of a rapper?
DX: So how different was that for you?
Stoupe: It’s a lot closer to the same thing than you think. The only difference is it’s a little more intricate I guess. And it’s not a rapper obviously, it’s a singer. The feeling is a lot more down tempo than upbeat. But it’s almost the same thing. If you were to speed these things up, you would hear exactly what I have to do and just slow it down. That’s the only difference I think.
DX: What are some of your favorite songs on the new record?
Stoupe: Depends what time of day it is. They’re all trying to set a certain mood with it. It might be something this day, and something different the next. We’re trying to practice for shows , and when you practice it one day it could be one song, and then the day it might be something different. I know that’s not an answer, but there it is.
DX: Well what about the time of day right now? What are your favorite songs today?
Stoupe: Today I’m feeling “Warm Like The Wind” because I’m working on a remix to that right now, and it’s such a slow Jazz ballad, but now I’m trying to make it double fast. So it’s going to be interesting to see what the velocity of the song does to the intention of the lyrics.
DX: I also read somewhere that you’re working with Lorrie Doriza. How far along is that?
Stoupe: The album is done. It’s not as laid back. Different vibe, more classical oriented.
DX: How are Laurie and Liz different to work with as far as their studio exploits?
Stoupe: Well, I actually got to work with Liz in the studio, and that’s cool to build a collaboration in the studio. But also I think it’s good that I didn’t work with Lorrie in the studio, because I think I could take on a whole new meaning of what she’s trying to do. You know how you can be around someone for so long that they influence you? Like, it could start as one thing and then become something different. Not saying that either avenue is a bad avenue, but it’s just different.
DX: So the Liz joint would be more of a collaboration in the truest sense, whereas the Laurie joint is Stoupe and Laurie, with both entities coming together?
Stoupe: I think they’re both collaborations, but just different ways of collaborating.