Underground Report: Copywrite
Copywrite opens up about his relationship with the late Camu Tao, explains about his growth as an artist, and talks reuniting with RJD2.
Life in Mirabella's Times
It's been a long eight years for storied underground emcee Peter Mirabella, better known to Hip Hop heads as Copywrite. In the early 2000's, he was an inescapable force, holding down an illustrious solo career on the High and Mighty's Eastern Conference imprint and fronting the first-ever Columbus, Ohio-based MHz crew with the late Camu Tao, Jakki Da Motamouth, Tage Future and producer RJD2. At one point, he was even a member of the Eastern Conference/Def Jux super-group the Weathermen and was even rumored to have been courted by Roc-A-Fella Records.
Soon, however, Copywrite's luck changed, as he was embroiled in a number of high profile feuds with the likes of 7L & Esoteric, Cage and Camu Tao - the later of which turned violent as the two duked it out in a much-contested 2005 fight. Yet nothing could prepare him for the tragic deaths of his mother, grandfather and former MHz/Weathermen partner Camu.
While many would simply give up in the face of such defeat, Copywrite persevered. Nearly a decade after his seminal debut The High Exhaulted, Copywrite has returned with his sophomore studio LP The Life and Times of Peter Nelson. Featuring the likes of Dilated Peoples, Sean Price, Crooked I, MF Grimm and the MHz, Life and Times finds Copy transforming his personal trials into what XXL Magazine called "...an outstanding album...[that] one can feel guilty for deriving so much pleasure from his pain." (CopywriteWorld.com). Copy spoke with DX earlier this month about his growth as an emcee, working with some of California's finest, reuniting with RJD2 and how Nirvana and Radiohead inspired his latest critically acclaimed effort.
HipHopDX: The Life and Times of Peter Nelson is your first studio album in eight years since 2002’s The High Exhaulted. After all of the drama you’ve had and the other kinds of personal tragedies you’ve experienced, how does it feel for it to finally be out?
Copywrite: I’m happy, I’m real happy with the album among itself and how it’s been received…I recorded it all out in California and I started out probably in January [or] February…I got to work with a lot of Californian artists on there. I feel like if I hadn’t been out there, I wouldn’t have been able to do the record with Crooked I, I wouldn’t have been able to do the record with Dilated [Peoples] or Motion [Man]. Those were all kind of organic collaborations that kind of came about. I don’t know, man, the music itself, I wouldn’t say the music was influenced [by being out in California], but my mood was influenced because I moved out there at a time when my grandpa was literally dying of cancer. I was taking care of him in the house and I was losing my mind. I had to get somewhere where I could be normal again, where I could not have to deal with all this dreary shit that was around me. So I feel like me getting to California was real important.
DX: One of the things I’ve noticed about underground Hip Hop these days, especially on top of 7L & Esoteric’s “Drawbar 1-2” with Evidence and the Alchemist [off 1212], is how traditionally east coast artists – or Midwest in your case – are looking across the coast more and working with California’s underground artists for collaborations. Coming from that, what was it like to work with Dilated and Crooked I and Motion Man on this album?
Copywrite: It was great. I mean, it’s always amazing to bring the Midwest sounds to people, whether they’re from the east coast or from the west coast. It’s always a great thing for me to mesh that and see what we come up with. I’ve known Rakaa [Iriscience] since 1999 – the first time me and Camu [Tao] went overseas with Bobbito [Garcia] on our first tour. [Rakaa] and [DJ] Babu were there, [Evidence] wasn’t there…and if you listen to Rakaa’s song “C.T.D.” off his Crown of Thorns album, he talks about that a little, in like the first few bars he shouts [the MHz] out…but yeah man, it was good. I’ve always respected what Dilated [Peoples] do, and I love their sound and it was only natural that we eventually come together and make something together seeing as how we have been holding it down in the underground for long.
DX: You’ve always been known for having incredible punch-lines and delivery, and while Life and Times has a lot of that, the majority of the album definitely feel more conceptually-focused. How was it to transition to this style for the majority of the album?
Copywrite: It’s something I’ve always been able to do. If you listen to “June” [off The High Exhaulted], it’s not anything that I just learned. Basically, when I did The High Exhaulted, I was a stubborn child. I didn’t want to make a well-rounded album. This album, I sat myself down and told myself to make a well-rounded album. I didn’t want to make the same album as The High Exhaulted - plus, I’m older. Music means a lot different shit to me now. Back then, I just wanted to prove that I could keep coming up with these [punchlines]…I wanted to be that guy. This time around, the way I see music now, it’s not worth anything unless you can help somebody through your pain, but I guess that’s what a little maturity will do for you.
DX: Definitely, and with that, the album feels very open and very personal. I know you’ve had a number of personal tragedies pver the last few years with the deaths of Camu Tao, your grandfather and your mother, and I was wondering, how did those experiences inform this record?
Copywrite: Talking about a lot of that stuff was therapeutic. I’ve got a lot a lot of people who listen to it now who are like "This is so sad," and I’m like "What?" I’m sorry that you feel that way, but I’m not sad anymore. Maybe I was at the time when I was recording it and writing it, but actually saying it and getting it out there and listening back to it, it helped me…get through this a lot. Like I said, hopefully - at the least - songs like “Confessional”…and “Don’t Kill Me” will help other people who are going through the same shit and let them know that there are other people who feel as depressed…and possibly suicidal as you do, but shit will get better.
DX: On top of that, one of the things that’s kind of interesting about Life and Times... coming out at the time that it did is that last summer, Cage released his album Depart From Me, and a lot of that album dealt with Camu’s passing. I know that you and Cage have had issues in the past, but do you see any similarities between your LP and his in this respect?
Copywrite: With all due respect [to Cage], I’ve never heard Depart From Me. And I also want to state that…man, I feel like the shit that I’ve done within the last few [years] has been ignorant. There [have] been incidents that have occurred when I wasn’t thinking all the way like I should have been. I wasn’t thinking like an adult. I’ve got no problems with Cage…or his movement or what [The Weathermen] doing. I feel like it would be really stupid to be holding a grudge at this moment in my life with all of this other shit that I’ve conquered; to hold a grudge over a past friend would be pointless…it’s something that I don’t need to do. [Cage and Camu] were really close. Dude, I’ve known Camu since fuckin’ ninth grade in high school. I was the one who introduced him to [Jakki Da Motamouth]…and everybody, but I know that him and Cage had their own shit and they were real cool, so my heart goes to Cage because I know he lost a friend as well.
DX: You talk a lot about your relationship and falling out with [former MHz/Def Jux] emcee Camu Tao on the album, particularly on songs like “Forever and a Day.” And like I said before, feel free to say as much or as little as you feel comfortable, but did you get to talk with him before he passed?
Copywrite: I had seen him a few times [before he passed], and I want to say that it was God that kept putting us in each other’s paths. There was one day when I was going to cop kicks and I bumped into him and it was on the north side of [Columbus], then the next day, I bumped into him on the east side of town, which is way the fuck far from where I bumped into him from before. When I bumped into him, I was with my mom and he was with his sister, and [my family] and his family’s were close; they had no choice but to be cool because we were so cool, like same thing with [Jakki]…and there were a few other times after that that we bumped into each other and we were cool. I mean, I’m not going to lie; I still wasn’t all the way 100% down to hang out just on the shit that happened, but I regret that.
That’s why I don’t hold grudges anymore, because I held a little bit of a grudge and look what happened. I didn’t think he was going to pass, honestly. I thought he was going to beat this shit. His personality was so big, he was so larger than life that I thought that there’s no way that there could be a world without this cat, like, “He’ll be okay, he’s a strong dude, he’ll beat this shit.” But that wasn’t the case. We definitely squashed [our differences], and I think he would want to be remembered for being a cool dude, a great person, somebody who basically looked out for you [and] give you the last meal out of the fridge. He was a great artist; he could draw. He was a sick artist, man, and all that ties into the music.
DX: Yeah, I had read that’s actually how the two of you had first connected, and then the focused kind of shifted to Hip Hop. How fo you think your and Camu’s abilities with art influence you music?
Copywrite: I was already rapping. I had started rapping the summer after ’91, and I had been listening to Hip Hop since like ’88-‘89, and I had never in any way, shape or form had wanted to be a rapper. Even me, [Jakki], his brother and another friend of ours who had passed away, we were just fucking around. We would just record these dumbass skits, like comedy skits and shit, on a boom box. One night, [Camu] was beating on the table doing a drumbeat, and we started freestyling. The neighborhood heard it and thought it was good – which it wasn’t – but then, we started trying to write something. [Camu] was into Hip Hop; he listened to Gang Starr…all the Grand Puba shit, Rough House Survivors, all that kind of shit…I wasn’t out there like, “Hey, I rap.” I didn’t give a shit about it, I did it for myself. [So] when [Jakki] got kicked out of his high school, he went back to my high school, and he would kind of force me to rap. He would kick me out of my shy shit. He would rap, there’d be another emcee, and [Jakki] would put me on the spot so that I had to rap…and Camu saw that we could rap, and he was like, “Oh shit, I want to do that.” He would fuck around, freestyle, mimic other rappers, but then he started writing. That’s kind of how it came about; we all started getting together, writing and recording.
To the second part of that [question], if you look up this word "synesthesia"…it’s when you associate colors with shapes and all kinds of weird shapes. It’s like, when I hear a bassline, I think of blue. When I hear pieces of a nice beat, I think of green, like emeralds and shit. To me, music is like how I look at drawing: it’s just shapes, you’ve just got to put it in the right spots. A picture of Mickey Mouse is just a bunch of circles; you’ve just got to know where to stop the connections at. To me, music and words are just all shapes. If you look at a page of one of my raps, you’ll see all these weird squiggles and shit, and places where the snare drops because that’s how I write my raps. I write them like a symphony…I feel like [they] definitely go hand-in-hand.
DX: That’s crazy, I’ve never heard of an emcee writing in those specific snare drums and other elements of beats in their lyrics. How’d you develop that style?
Copywrite: When I first started, I used to just sit in my bedroom and spend six hours on one verse, and by the time you repeat the verse for six hours, you’d definitely remember it. But when your workload would start to bulk up and you started doing more shit, you write a verse and you’d go back to it and, like I said, you’re like, “How the fuck did this pattern go? This shit sounded so hot like two hours ago”…I just had to do it like that or else I wouldn’t remember any of that. And the only other cat who I’ve ever known who said he’s done the same shit was Crooked I.
DX: It’s funny that you describe the way you write your lyrics as constructing a symphony, because I’ve always kind of felt that RJD2’s production, whether it’s solo or with another artist, is constructed in that same way. How does that kind of factor into your work with him, particularly on these new records that you made with him like “Tic Toc” for Life and Times?
Copywrite: We’ve got the same outlook on [music]. We want the same end result. We want the songs to be as good as they can be without overdoing the shit. I’ve known [RJD2] since before he even made beats, so we already have the same principles and sensibilities that when we get together to make a song, we don’t even have to speak. It’s like a close friend who you haven’t seen in like five years that and when you get back and kick it with them, it’s like you’ve never missed a beat. We’re working on a lot of other shit…[for] the future that’s going to drop next year, so heads should be ready for that.
Heads should also be ready for the MHz record…it’s going to be nothing like Life and Times…basically, were just trying to do that new, new, new shit without straying too far away from what makes sense. The way that Life and Times surprised people from anything that I’ve done before…I feel like we’re going to try to make MegaHertz that same. We’re trying to make each album it’s own planet. A lot of people think Table Scraps is [MHz’s] debut album; it’s not. That was just our demo that got us signed to Bobbito‘s [Fondle 'Em Records] and bunch of singles and shit. That’s why we called it Table Scraps, [because] it was just turntable scraps, shit that was just laying around. We’re just trying to make an incredible album…a real, real sick-ass cohesive album.
DX: It’s funny that you mention Fondle ‘Em Records, because I feel like that label and Eastern Conference and Def Jux’s line-ups defined underground Hip Hop in the late 1990s and early 2000s. So now, with the passing of Camu and most recently Eyedea, and even the dissolution of Fat Beats’s stores and Def Jux this past year, how do you see underground Hip Hop changing, and is it for the better or worse? Do you think the Internet’s kind of stranglehold on the business has been hurting it?
Copywrite: I think the Internet is a double-edged sword. I feel like it can help out, and it’s definitely helped us out and I feel like it can also hurt in terms of like sales, people downloading your stuff illegally and all that. I don’t know, I think Hip Hop is what each artist makes it…also, you’ve got to forgive me because I stay so in my own world sometimes and listening to the artists that I listen to that…there’s a slew of artists out there that I’m not even hip to, whereas in the early 2000s, I had so much more time to sit online and look at shit and stop and think. I don’t know, I think it’s going in a better, more progressive…and honest direction. I just heard a lot of Atmosphere's [To All My Friends, Blood Makes The Blade Holy]. I feel like that shit is incredible...[it’s] without boundaries. A lot of it is fearless music, and that’s the shit that I’m really trying to make and trying to listen to.
I don’t like music with boundaries. I started realizing when made this new album, I didn’t want to make myself so bulletproof because it was bullshit. I had my whole world crumbling around me and for me to try and act like I was invincible was a pile of shit. I also realized…what made me like other genres of music…what me like Nirvana so much was Kurt [Cobain’s] brutal honesty. What made me like Radiohead so much [was] the fact that the fuckin’ song could do anything at any given moment, but it’s still dope because they won’t let themselves make anything that’s not dope. That’s just how they are; they’re strict that way. I tried to apply some of that shit to my own music and I’ve given my mind a new way to think, and it’s like I’ve almost created a new emcee.
DX: You mention Nirvana and Radiohead. Do you think looking at other genres for influence is going to be necessary for Hip Hop to survive and progress?
Copywrite: Yeah, I mean, I feel like you should be honest in your music no matter what. After all this shit that’s happened to me, how the fuck could I have not talked about it? How could I just turn my head the other way and act like all this sabotaging shit that people tried to do to me didn’t happen? People would have never fuckin’ listened to my record. So basically, they forced me to make this album the way it is. I was forced into making this album this honest, and it’s a blessing because now, I can do anything. Now, I feel like I can do anything. I was against all odds, and I made an album that people are actually digging, so I feel like musically, I’m in a great place right now, and I feel like everybody out there should be honest with their shit. Nobody wants to hear bullshit.
If you noticed, when Kanye [West] and 50 Cent were up against each other with the  sales [battle] – and you can say what you want about both artists, I’m not saying that – when Kanye won in sales, I said it was a new day. When the average Joe emcee beat out the bulletproof emcee, it spoke multitudes about what people really want to hear.