Canibus & Keith Murray (The Undergods): Hip Hop Bounty Hunters
The Undergods speak about the state of Hip Hop, their union, and how the media has let them down in their pursuit of preserving the culture.
With its ever-changing cast of emcees, deejays, dancers and graffiti artists, Hip Hop could be classified as the music world’s answer to William Shakespeare. There’s certainly enough drama to go around as well as love, passion and creativity. And no shortage of plot twists to boot.
And while new playwrights strive to win over audiences with their meaningful works, older thespians continue their quest to carry on the traditions of those before them as they serve up hard knock siloquies for fans to digest. Among the lyricists doing their part are Keith Murray and Canibus.
As The Undergods, the pair is formidable enough as solo artists, with Murray and Canibus constructing notable quotables over the years with classic hits and standout guest appearances on various remixes and collaborations. Now, the longtime friends have joined together to assume a new identity as the Undergods.
Armed with lyrics and knowledge, the group released a seven-song EP in 2009 to give fans a taste of what was to come. The result emerged with the Undergods full-length debut, In Gods We Trust: Crush Microphones To Dust.
The 18-track opus, which includes appearances from Crooked I, Planet Asia, Sermon, Jake One and Tech N9ne, serves as a vehicle to express Murray and Canibus’ love for Hip Hop as well as officially introduce listener’s to Rap’s latest duo. According to Murray, the Undergods stands as a natural evolution of the musical and personal bond he shares with Canibus.
Agreeing to a rare interview, Canibus spoke with HipHopDX, with Murray, to discuss their formation, their mutual respect for each other and why it’s important for Hip Hop artists and listeners to stand strong and united among those plotting its downfall. While the pair managed their own interview, the lyrical inisights burn bright in the face of the so-called hijacked culture
The History Of The Undergods
HipHopDX: Pretty much, a lot of folks know you guys individually. Your reputation, your lyrical prowess, all of that, the classics that you’ve dropped over the years. And now you’ve come together as the Undergods. What is it that they two of you have as a solid unit that fans may not get from hearing and or seeing you on your own?
Keith Murray: The fact that me and [Canibus] is brothers. We come from Long Island. He knows my family. I know his family. I know his kids. He knows my kids. This is just not some studio cipher, studio come-together-thing. We’re brothers.
Canibus: That’s right
Keith Murray: So simple and plain. You can’t pan us as who’s the better lyricist or who’s in the better group. We’re brothers.
They say never mix business or personal life together. We’re brothers. It ain’t no check or thing for money or nothing like that. We’re the super underground group. We have yet to reap our benefits and we’re brothers. We’re covered in the blood of Jesus, Muhammad, Allah or whoever, y’know what I mean?
Canibus: That’s right. That’s what I was sayin’ before [Keith] Murray, before he got, when he got disconnected. What I said was Murray came out in ’92, so…
Keith Murray: No, I came out in ’93 on Erick Sermon’s No Pressure. I did “Hostile.” The Most Beautifullest Thing in the World came out in ’94.
Canibus: The whole world knew who he was. The whole world was looking at Murray for his lyricism and for just how he came out in the game. Standing on a Lex-bubble, you know what Im sayin'.
Keith Murray: Erick Sermon gave me that call in Atlanta and I…
Canibus: It’s important for people to see that and to know that when Murray was out, I was still lookin’ on the TV screen and watching Yo! MTV Raps and Rap City. So getting the opportunity to work with him later on in my Rap career, it’s a big deal to me because I can still take myself back to ’92, 93 when he came in the game and just the effect and the influence that he had on just lyricists in general, for the people who hadn’t made up their mind how they were gonna present themselves and what type of style they were gonna come with, Murray was somebody that…
Keith Murray: I gave birth to a million emcees in the game…
Canibus: Real talk. Real spit. Because a lot of emcees, they work together and they can’t really...or emcees that even don’t work together. They can’t work together because they can’t event admit that this artist influenced them
Keith Murray: Yeah because their ego is too big. You don’t edge God out. E.G.O. Edge. God. Out. You don’t do that
Canibus: So that’s an important facet of the whole thing. The chemistry comes from just being 100 with the whole idea that, you know, he was out first. He influenced so many, so many different components of lyricism that any emcee that says they don’t remember him, it’s not true. And the same thing goes for me. I came out six years after Murray, so...
Keith Murray: It’s equality in the mathematics that we study. Equality. Six years equality.
Canibus: Actual fact: a lot of artists was influenced by some of the stuff that I put down too, but people just kind jump over things. They jump over where their influences came from and you know by doing that…
Keith Murray: They change they dialogue. They wanna get money and pay their rent and stuff of that nature.
Canibus: You can pay your rent and still keep it real too, you know.
DX: The chemistry is obviously there. So how would you describe the Undergods, with all that you’ve said? How would you sum up the Undergods?
Keith Murray: I gotta let Canibus answer that.
DX: Who are the Undergods?
Canibus: The Undergrounds is an underground Hip Hop…
Keith Murray: Like Kurt Cobane or Jimmy Hendrix.
Canibus: Lyrical titans, you know what I'm sayin’, underground lyrical titans...
Keith Murray: And mainstream, like self-contained.
Canibus: That love the culture to the point where we sacrifice everything.
Keith Murray: Like Martin Luther King.
Canibus: That’s right. We sacrifice everything for it and never ask for anything in return.
Keith Murray: Because the laws of nature will provide for us.
Canibus: That’s right
DX: Definitely, it shows.
Keith Murray: And that’s a big blessing coming from you Chris, HipHopDX. A lot of people might overlook it. Like XXL, The Source or Hip-Hop Weekly. What’s the other one that says "Step Your Rap Game Up"?
Keith Murray: Yeah. Cool. Now we’re on the same page...When we walk in the 7-Eleven, they’re all in our face.
Canibus: We been puttin’ it down before those publications, when they was magazines. We been putting it down. Well Murray been puttin’ it down. A lot of publications was even in the store.
DX: The Undergods are the latest in a long line of Rap duos. You go a legendary list that includes EPMD…
Keith Murray: Erick Sermon sat and he executive produced the Undergods album and the EP with M-Eighty. We don’t got Pete Rock. We don’t got DJ Premier on the album. We got Bronze Nazareth. And we got up and coming artists. The Undergods. The Undergod producers.
Canibus: We do want the listener and the readers to understand that Hip Hop got hijacked. Because there was time where there were publications and now you got a lot of online publications. But it’s the same thing. There was as time when they didn’t have no advertising dollars. So they didn’t have no sponsors, no advertising. They used to grade the albums based off of the cup is half full. But it was their culture. They respected the culture, number one…
Keith Murray: Yeah because they graded it off of what was originality and what was sacred.
Canibus: That’s right. And then it got hijacked to where they started to get advertising because it blew up…
Keith Murray: Yeah and anybody and everybody and their mama could do it.
Canibus: It blew up so big they got hijacked by the advertising dollars because the publications had started to take the advertising dollars and then you started to see the magazines thicken and you seen more ads in there. And then they stopped caring about looking out for the artists. They started to just write whatever about the artists because they was getting the advertising dollars now.
So that’s around the time when I started noticing the quotes that they would take from artists would be quotes, the ones that they would put in all big caps and the ones that they put at the top of the articles. Those lines and the quotes that they would take. It would be quotes that I know…
Keith Murray: It would be the quotes that would get people to listen.
The Undergods On How Hip Hop Has Been Hijacked
Canibus: It would be quotes that I know if the artist was standing in front of the editor, he couldn’t put that. The editor wouldn’t be able to put that in the magazine. So that’s where it got hijacked at, when the advertising dollars started coming in. They started to grade
And so the Undergods are basically, we them dudes that…we rep Hip Hop before it got hijacked and we rep it now, regardless of whether it’s hijacked or not. We still step to it and give it 100% all the way. And the whole effect of it is received by our core fans, the ones that remember what Hip Hop, the love and just the common respect among the artists in it. All the elements. Not just lyricism but all the elements.
DX: Fellas. So with that in mind, I gotta ask: going on the thing with the Rap duos. With the EPMDs, the Gang Starrs, Eric B. & Rakims, how do you plan on carrying the tradition that they’ve laid out with generating with classics and a lasting legacy? How do the Undergods carry that torch? How do you plan on carrying that torch?
Canibus: We been carrying it. We never put it down. That’s what I’m saying. That’s an objective answer.
DX: Seeing as how both of you have achieved a bit of mainstream attention when you came on the scene. Which, in your opinion, which audience is the most challenging to win over?
Keith Murray: Why would you want to win something over? If you have a formula that corners the market and makes money, why would you want a third person to come in and say "Yo, we want to go somewhere, uncharted territories that people don’t understand." You stay with what you know and who you’re comfortable with. Why would you do that?
Canibus: That’s other people trying to expand. But we’ve always been underground.
Keith Murray: That’s what happened with Keith Murray and Def Jam [Records]. Kevin [Liles] and Lyor [Cohen] brought me in and then the [sales] happened and they were leaving. And then they put me with A&R’s I didn’t understand. Erick Sermon wasn’t there. He came in later. Why would I mess up my footing to go please people that don’t understand me in the first place? Stick with what you know and live out your existence. That’s the way of the world.
Canibus: We’re all under the same banner. It’s Hip Hop, man.
If we were under attack from something else, then we would always remember, "Yo man I know more about this dude just from listenin’ to his lyrics than I know about this person over here in politics no matter what they’re saying on the screen because they’re talkin’ a bunch of semantics and it’s hard to keep up with what they’re saying. But I know this artist just based off of the lyrics that he was spittin." Or I know this artist, this turntablist. Or the other elements I know the respect that they got for it just based off the amount of work they put in, the amount of years they put in. It’s so obvious, man.
We was the first genre to go to guerilla style at the charts. The first genre. We went guerilla at the charts, man. When Puff put Craig Mack out, they came down to Brooklyn. [The L.O.X. manager] Super Mario and them came down to Brooklyn with the Big Mac, the cases the [McDonald's] Big Mac was in. and they put the tape in there with [Notorious] B.I.G. and Total and 112 and the L.O.X. It was in the Big Mac thing. Now if somebody can’t look at that and say well, "Who was doin’ that before?" in any genre of music. Who was doin’ that first? Nobody.
A lot of these CEOs out that are out now...There are stories that I heard stories about Andre Harrell when he went up there to get the deal. When he was [half of 1980s Hip Hop duo] Dr. Jekyll & Mr. Hyde, and he was going to solicit to get himself either a production deal or possibly a record deal. I remember that he had went up there. He was trying to take the meeting. Nobody would give him the meeting. He would come up there every day. He couldn’t get a meeting. So you know what he did one day after about two weeks of going up there every day and not gettin’ no meeting and leaving material and not gettin’ no callbacks? Yo, the dude just came outside and sat in front of the building, like sat in front of the steps and waited in front of the building until the CEO of that company came down…
Keith Murray: Those are our forefathers. You got George Washington. You got Abraham Lincoln. You got all of them. Those are our forefathers. Kool Herc, Russell Simmons.
Canibus: And they earned that respect. If you think about those sacrifices. If he didn’t come downstairs and just stayed put, I think it was in a book…
Keith Murray: And you can’t forget about Rick Rubin too, who was the liberal white guy that held the flag for black people.
Canibus: That’s right. Rubin put his neck in the guillotine to make sure that Hip Hop music got heard on a wide-scale level, on a global scale. Like I said, it’s a travesty when you see these names get taken out their slots because if you can take those names out of the slots then naturally artists like me and Murray is gonna definitely be dealing with a headache when it comes to that because if you took the real pioneers out of them slots, then that means the second wave like Murray and the third or fourth wave like myself, it’s almost inevitable that that would’ve happened.
And the most important thing that I’m trying to get across to you and to the listeners and the readers is that if these things happen to the first wave of Hip Hop, the second wave and the, third wave…we’re in the fourth and fifth wave right now and all the subsequent waves that are gonna come after, they need to realize that if those things were done to us, what the fuck do you think is gonna happen to you?
DX: Definitely something to think about.
Canibus: Before you know it, one day they’re gonna turn around, just like it happened to us. One day they’re gonna turn around and people are gonna be calling them irrelevant but it’s gonna be something even worse. They think that’s all they got to look forward to. It’s gonna be something even worse. Possibly something where it’s freedom of speech … It’s possible when you’re dealing with something like the Internet, it’s very possible that certain things that’s written on the Internet. Those words could be keyed in and you could be booted off the Internet. So now people could be regulating your speech. Then what you think hip-hop will sound like?
Keith Murray: It’s gonna be robotic.
DX: It’s definitely not gonna sound like what’s it’s supposed to...
Canibus: No. That’s what we’re gonna be saying, but the people who are gonna be listening to it and loving it. And dudes like us are gonna be saying ‘Yo man. I don’t give a fuck about that old shit. I like it the way it is.’ And dudes like us are gonna be running around tight at it and ostracized from it. And so that’s my point.
Keith Murray: That’s why Nas said "Hip-hop is dead." He didn’t say as we know it.
Canibus: Nas knew what he was talkin’ about.
Keith Murray: 'Bis, he left it up to the listener to say "as we know it."
Canibus: But the listeners and the readers stopped sayin’ Hip Hop, the Hip Hop consumer base and the Hip Hop participant. Not the people on the field. I’m talkin’ about the court system. I’m talkin’ about a lot of titles. A lot of titles, like "takin’ down Hip Hop," "the return of Hip Hop." Like how many titles are in there or out there where pioneers or second and third wave artists are sayin’ "Taking Back Hip Hop," "The Return of Hip Hop," The Rebirth of Hip Hop," you know what I'm sayin', "Hip Hop raw uncut." That is a signal. We’re sendin’ a signal to the current generation, like "Yo, let’s take it back."
And so up to this point, I really haven’t seen a take back assault. I haven’t seen that. So when they don’t like the quality of what Hip Hop sounds like right now, they can’t blame us as the artists that’s making the music. They have to do some self-reflection. They have to introspectively look at the situation and realize that it was as much their responsibility just as much as it was ours. And really almost, even more so than it is ours because we ain’t gonna turn our backs on the way we put it down. We’re not gonna compromise.
I got a sayin’. It’s almost a motto. I say "I don’t know how it’s goin’ down. All I know is how it’s not gonna go down." And so I say that to say this: when you say you’re committed to something and you love something, that’s because you do not compromise on it. You don’t budge. And so you can’t say you love something and then compromise about it because that means you don’t love it because you compromised. So you when you deal with people, and not just the Undergods man. Like I said, the list goes on and on. But people need to pay homage to that, to all other artists that came to put it down. Not just individually, but collectively that put us all on those categories and offer it back in such a way that it will revitalize and reinvigorate us to give more because at certain points, you start to get worn out about it. You start to realize it’s been an uphill battle for 15 years. How much longer, you know what I'm sayin', do these listeners and readers expect their favorite artist from another era to fight for it if they don’t reinforce us or support us?
If your artist has strong opinions, how can you have a weak opinion? If the artist that you’re talking about has a strong opinion, how can you have a weak opinion about that artist? You need to also have a strong opinion, if not a stronger opinion because there are gonna be people that’s tellin’ you "Nah, man. This dude right here, he don’t sound the same no more." So you have to step up and be like, "Yo. You don’t really know what you’re talking about. Have you listened to they catalogues. Do you know the different choice they put down? Do you understand the work that’s been put in?”
Alright. Since you just talkin’ and you’re not really sayin’ nothin’, let’s quantify it like this. You can’t have a strong opinion about something that you never put in on. So in other words, somebody who’s never made a beat in their life, has never gone anywhere or never wrote a rhyme that’s been heard outside the people in their local area, how can you have a weak and critical opinion of somebody who’s been all over the globe?
DX: Good point.
Canibus: Two hundred-thousand air miles? I mean, come on dude. That’s like 10 times around the fuckin’ planet.
DX: I definitely hear you. I could play devil’s advocate with you on that and everything. There are selective …
Canibus: What you gonna do? You’re saying devil’s advocate. Say what? I’m interested. What?
DX: I could definitely play devil’s advocate with what you’re sayin.
Canibus: Spit it out. What? What?
DX: You have “selective fans” that only listen to certain tracks and base an opinion off of that as opposed to your whole catalog or most of your catalog where they can get a solid opinion about where you’re going musically. So there’s like a ton of factors that you could factor in to saying that, like ‘Oh, he doesn’t sound the same” or “He needs to sound like this.” ….Unless you heard or kept up with the artist and where they’re going musically, then all you have is that selective catalog.
Canibus: I took in everything you just said, but earlier on in some of the earliest stages when it was still hand to hand. Hip Hop was hand-to-hand, meaning that there was no way to come around and say something that criticize the art form without bein’ present. So it was hand to hand. If you got something to say, you gotta to go to the jams in the park or you gotta go to the spot where the artist is at. You gotta be bout it with what you feel. Where now, there’s a lot of faceless characters and avatars and people that they never listen to Hip Hop. They’re the ones that’s puttin’ it on the Hip Hop in order to debunk it and are program to pull the feet out from underneath the culture. You criticize in your delivery to fit in with everyone else …It’s like what’s goin’ on with this fake twitter shit, with me and this fake Twitter shit alright?
Canibus On His Twitter Imposter
DX: I was gonna ask you about…
Canibus: Listen to me. How vexed do you think you would be if somebody was out there impersonating you, right? Now I don’t fuck with Twitter like that. My real Twitter is @DaRealCanibus. That’s my real Twitter. Now, if you go to it and look, I don’t really fuck with the shit like that.
But back to what I was sayin’. How vexed would you feel if somebody or several people out there was impersonating you and talkin’ to the whole world about you, you know, in a negative way and creating situations that were absolutely negative for you and then the publications that you been on – I’ve been on HipHopDX back in the day in the early stages. I’ve been on and in all the magazines. Murray too, but personally just me. I did all that shit. So how is a magazine or some type of online site or whatever or just in general a Hip Hop participant, a Hip Hop publication, how are they gonna promote the negative Twitter account, promote the account that’s talkin’ shit ? Why doesn’t somebody that’s down with me or somebody that knows me blow that fake Twitter up?
I tell you how. How hard is it to say, ‘Yo if this really is Canibus, what car was you drivin’ in ’92? What was the first studio that me and you met at? What was the name of the engineer? What label was I signed to? Ask a personal question that you and that artist knows in order to blow them up in front of everybody.
But see, that’s not what goes on anymore. Now, you got situations where somebody, a publication will promote the negativity and escalate it instead of trying to nullify it and put the fires out. Hip Hop is on some Jerry Springer [Show] shit, like some hood Jerry Springer shit where it’s like everybody goin’ up to Jerry Springer strapped.
DX: I get what you’re saying. A lot of the sites, a lot of the publications, you know how they do…I think what you’re saying, if I’m reading you correctly, saying why didn’t I go deeper and investigate it to really see if this is the person that Twitter claims to be rather than some fake imposter.
Canibus: Yeah. You say why not. I say you have to do that. You have to do that because if you don’t do that to an artist like myself then what happens when someone else’s account gets hijacked? Somebody that’s so big and verified but it still gets hacked because you know that’s possible, you know. A verified account can get hacked.
DX: It’s been done. It’s definitely been done.
Canibus: That’s right. That’s right. So my thing is like ‘Yo man, if Hip Hop don’t come together as a whole and collectively add on to it, then how long do these individual people think it’s gonna last?
DX: I’ve always respected the music and the lyrics that you put down. From the mixtapes to the label and the studio albums, you definitely put it down. Many, many times I’ll be rewinding or listening to the track over just to fully get what you’re saying. Sometimes it would be like years and then when it finally hits, I get a better appreciation for it. I’ve said it many times, but thank you. I really do appreciate it.
Canibus: Thank you too. I gotta tell you. It’s one other thing I would like people to know. For artists, when you…I’ve always pushed it this way. If Hip Hop paid more homage to Hip Hop then everybody individually would be better off. Everybody doesn’t have to like certain artists. You’re not forced to like certain artists. You make up your opinion in your mind on what you like. And so nothing’s wrong with that. You have the freedom of choice and the freedom of will to decide what you want to open your mind and your heart to.
That’s always been a major component of Hip Hop is. That’s what fuels the creativity, someone wanting to be different and wanting to add on a different facet to the art form. Like I said, if people paid more homage to Hip Hop then the components are automatically boosted in to the categories they need to be in. That’s why it’s a completely selfless statement I’m making. I just feel like deliberately the powers that be jump over these selfless statements and the selfless actions that I take on behalf of Hip Hop and they only focus on the things that have to be done in order to sustain operations. They jump over it on purpose deliberately. Like instead of saying "Well damn, let’s publish the words that this guy is talking about. He’s speaking on Hip Hop needs to collectively have a respect for the art form itself and then automatically those components, they’re automatically put in the position that they’ve earned." Instead of doin’ that, they jump over it and they X that out and paint over it and hide it and cover it up. And then they expose the things that’s ultimately gonna shut Hip Hop down in five years or in 10 years.
I mean personally, this year is a big year for collective thought in terms of just globally. Everybody on the planet is gonna experience things this year that’s will personally effect everyone and collectively affect the entire globe. And so if we don’t get it together when these other situations arise, then it’s gonna be a cold day in hell man. It’s gonna be really heartbreakin’ to see how communication…like people ain’t even gonna be able to communicate in that time because they didn’t practice at it. There’s no practice.
Hip Hop really now needs some more home training now, you know what I'm sayin'. People need to start being courteous to one another and start just realizing that if you want respect that means you come with respect to get respect. It’s a one-way street or a one -lane road that we share. Like when you’re in a third world country, sometimes there’s no two lanes. It’s just one lane and you have to share it. You don’t have a choice.
But now, there’s a million lanes that people can just make up that lane but that lane is an illusion because when it comes down to it, collectively, we are responsible for one another. We’re responsible for the art. Everybody is. Outside of Hip Hop music, there are things that are facing us on a global level, on a human level on this earth that’s gonna take place. Where’s the practice? I’m not just talkin’ about music. Sports, any types of recreational things. All of these things are gifts that the gods gave us to communicate with each other and to have a relationship with one another. They’re common denominators for all of us.
It’s like when there’s a game’s on or the fight’s on, everybody’s watching the game. Everybody’s doing that, so that’s the practice. But now it just seems Hip Hop itself …man, most people don’t even understand that concept. They really think they’re gonna shit on everybody in the world in Hip Hop and then it will never happen to them. That’s what they think.
That’s why I’ve said I’ve always responded to issues. I’ve never proactively or preemptively attacked anything in this music because I know that the same thing that you’re doing, karmaically it will come back to you. But now, that’s what I said. That’s why a nigga like me so vexed because motherfuckers jump over what happened to me or what was done to me. And they do it for other artists too, but I can only speak for my experience. They jump over what was done, what I’m responding to. They just turn the cameras and the microphones on when I’m responding. That ain’t right. Tell the truth, man, because a half truth is still a motherfuckin’ lie. And it’s worse than a straight up lie because it’s a half truth. So you’re gonna have people who they identify the truth they gonna step over there and get the half truth. And then get completely sabotaged because you gave ‘em a half truth. So a half truth is worse than a 100% lie in most instances.
And I feel like that’s what…I got a lot of things to offer Hip Hop. People behave as though everything that’s been done in the past and that’s it. So now I’m out of juice. I ain’t got nothin’ more for Hip Hop. That’s ridiculous. I got all these experiences, I have all of these things I’ve learned from Hip Hop and from the world and I’m sharing, taking it in, chewing it up, adding different things to it and then re-servicing it to the culture. How can you look at that and toss it away like this person can’t add on to Hip Hop no more?
DX: You make a valid point. I feel what you’re saying. There’s so many issues that need to be addressed, that should be addressed that it’s ridiculous that we don’t take time out to address them and really get the situation so we can resolve it and grow.
Canibus: You’re right. I’m to the point where instead of me fighting, instead of me just straight up… because I did that already. I did that. Instead of me going down the same route that I’ve done before only to have it backfire, it’s important now to just give a warning out and say "Yo man. You think you’re hurting me now and you think that you’re stopping me or you think that you’re doing something absolutely negative to me, but you’re doing it to yourself. You’re not stopping me from makin’ my music, writin’ my rhymes, saying what the fuck I want to say. You’re not doing that." You’re hurting yourself because the experiences that artists like Murray… they was talkin’ about EPMD. Make sure you throw K-Solo’s name in there up at the top because he was one of the best that was also involved in that. So early in the interview throw his name because he was one of the best. Before the Hit Squad… He was with the Hit Squad but he still had his albums that he dropped. You think about "The Fugitive" and "Tales from the Crack Side," like I did it on "The Ghost of Hip-Hop’s Past" and all that.
It’s like now I go on. I see the Undergods album bein’ promoted and stuff but the venue that’s promoting’ the Undergods album they don’t wanna say nothin’ about Lyrical Law. See? It doesn’t make no sense. Why you just want to sell the Undergods and you don’t want me to sell Lyrical Law, you don’t want to sell Lyrical Law?
DX: I definitely want to touch on that particular track and really get to the heart of that track in itself?
Canibus: Lyrical Law is an album, Chris
DX: See? My bad. That’s my fault for not knowing.
Canibus: Lyrical Law is an album. It’s not just a track. It was "Lyrical Law vs...." or …what I got on the album is Lyrical Law ciphers, they’re ciphers. Golden ciphers, cipher of steel . It’s ciphering because that’s another aspect of Hip Hop that is really almost dead. The idea of cipherin.’
Remember cipherin’ was early. It was cipherin first, then battlin’ was something that an artist would do to defend himself because it would always be an artist that attacked in a cipher. Not always. Sometimes, most times niggas would just get together and be able to cipher. And then everybody would be like "Oh!" Everybody just love his input. It’s all collective, everybody adding on. Then if for some reason two artists don’t swing the same way then they clash and the battle happens subsequently because of that.
Ciphers are where it started. Hip Hop needs to go back to ciphers man because it’s obvious now that nobody really wants to battle anymore if they stand something to lose or if somebody who’s their boss is telling them not to. But what’s wrong with a cipher, though?
DX: I was gonna add to that with the freestyle, the art of freestyle. What happened to that? That in addition to ciphering is practically nonexistent.
Canibus: Yeah, but see the world is so complicated now that freestyle is overrated because I don’t want to sit there..
DX: I hate to interrupt you but, I love the art of freestyle. I can’t do it, but I love when an MC can just go off the top and really flow.
Canibus: Yeah, but do you write? Do you write rhymes?
DX: I don’t write rhymes. I love rap and everything and I’ve played around with freestyles with my friends but I haven’t put anything, any pen to paper
Canibus: Alright. So you’re not an expert. So let me tell you as an expert. I’m telling you this as an expert. You can’t tell, if somebody’s an expert, you can’t tell whether it’s off the top or whether it’s written. You can’t tell because an artist can take something that they’ve already got and mix it with something that’s goin’ on currently and you’ll think it’s all off the top.
That’s a part of the whole charismatic part of Hip Hop that everybody loves because it’s like you got darts and nobody knows what you got. That’s why I say the word "freestyle" and the idea of freestyle is overrated now because the world is a very complicated place compared to what it was like in the ‘80s or the ‘90s or even there in the first 10 years of the millennium. From 2000 to 2010. The world is way more complicated in 2011 than it was in 2004 or 2005. So when you take all of those things in to account or eve just the most important ones, then you have to admit that a freestyle could be boring if they don’t respect the art enough to really have catalog. Like you got darts for days. When you have darts for days, now you’re freestyle is not overrated.
For somebody to just pick up the mic or just their acapella to be spittin’ some stupid shit, look I’ve put too much in to sit down and listen to that. I don’t need to waste my time doin’ that or listenin’ to that because It’s substandard. It’s subpar.
DX: And I guess pretty much it’s having pride in what you spit. You don’t want to spit something that…
Canibus: Right. Right. That’s what I mean. You’re absolutely right. That’s what I was sayin’. You understand what I mean because at a certain point, when it was back in the day, there was only maybe a dozen artists that everybody knew was out. That was it. Signed, period, out. Got albums out. That was during the [Big Daddy] Kane era and the Rakim era. The Juice Crew, [Kool] G Rap, Craig G’s, Masta Aces, you know what I'm sayin', that era. Naturally, the competition was amongst them.
But the culture started to expand and become this mega financial…it became a boomin’ industry. And so the natural occurrence that happens after the industry starts to boom and really expand, then now the competition gets fierce. So artists were forced to…Murray was one of the first artists in the second wave of Hip Hop. He was one of the first that, if not top tier in the second wave. When I say second wave I mean not early ‘80s, man. He was definitely spittin’ hard in the late ‘80s because he came out in the early ‘90s. So that means in ’88 he had skills. You know that, right? You would’ve had to have had skills four years prior to you coming out. It would’ve took about that long or maybe a little bit longer to get a record deal, to just get recognition.
Get somebody to be like, "Oh yo that kid is nice. He got darts. He can get busy." So now when it’s so fierce and because you got kids that don’t…Hip Hop to them is something to do. You got people where they don’t take it that serious and you have people that don’t have to take it that serious that and can still participate in and get the most out of it and get more out of it than people who do take it serious.
So when you got that kind of dynamic involved, I really think that straight up freestyle without any type of…so what you gonna do? You just gonna stand there and just talk about shit that’s right there or just pull shit straight out of your mind? If you think that that’s more interesting than somebody who can do that plus and then some, then I really gotta, I gotta question what it is you’re lookin’ for because it’s not that type of game. It’s not that type of party no more. It’s fierce now.
Your favorite artist, either freestyle or artist who adds both the element of freestyle and written, you’re favorite artist, the one that you pegged that he’s the one, I guarantee you that there’s a lot of different styles that they got and a lot of different ways that they can project they style. And it’s not all what you think.
You just think they just come off the head and do that? Yo, horseshit. You can’t. Anybody who’s just comin’ off the head is not gonna be as interesting as somebody who has put in way more and comes to the plate way more prepared and prepared for more than just a freestyle.
That’s why when I was comin’ up and when I was young, and I was on, I could rhyme for four hours straight nonstop because it wasn’t all freestyle. If it was all freestyle, wouldn’t nobody listen, including me.
DX: True. True.
Canibus: Who the fuck wants to sit there and listen to some random bullshit for four hours and then walk away from it, trying to convince somebody else that it was dope? Knock it off man
So just like now, it’s the same thing with all the other industries, Chris. The automotive industry, the financial industry. You can do online banking now. Imagine a bank that says, "Aw naw. Listen, we only deal with you gotta walk in the bank." What the fuck kind of business are they gonna get?
If the automobile industry didn’t start to step it up and start to add some of the luxury add-ons that some of the luxury manufacturers had, then people would’ve never wanted anything but the luxury ones.
So what I’m sayin’ is if everything else stepped up, Hip Hop needs to step up too. And Hip Hop has stepped up because you have a lot of artists that will tell you it’s freestyle, but I’m tellin’ you, if they’re an expert, they’re mixing all of the elements and components that have made them who they are today. And that’s what you’re seein'. That’s what you’re amazed by. And that’s what they deserve, youknowwhatimsayin, the accolades and the praise for it, “God damn, you put together some hot shit. You made that shit look like it was…"
You can’t convince me, man. I seen some of the sickest freestyle artists, artists that I know that are freestylers. If I be around ‘em for six months to a year, I’ll hear ‘em say the same rhyme, even if it’s a bar or two bars, it will be something they said before. Am I lying?
DX: You’re right. I’ll be honest I have come across some mixtapes or even songs where it’s the same stuff he spit in that freestyle that he spit in song.
Canibus: I’ve done it. I’m not thrashin’ anybody that does it because I’ve done it, but the whole point is when you’re sittin’ there and it’s time to get busy with it and something don’t come to you or you don’t wanna come off like you ain’t prepared, then you’re gonna do what the next thing that comes to you. It’s the same way with sports. That’s like telling somebody that’s right-handed or kick with the right foot to go with the left without practicin’. It’s not possible, my dude. They’re gonna look uncoordinated.
And as an expert, I’m tryin’ to put you on to that. Trust me, dude. These artists that you think are doing all freestyle, no fuckin’ way. No way, dude. Not the ones that are interesting. Not the artists people are lookin’ at like ‘Man, he gotta be one of the top tier freestylers in the world.’
Man, if you think he’s not grabbing all the elements and the components from the past and just repackaging them and revitalizing and giving’ it to you, then you don’t understand the natural order of things. And the natural order in everything else is that you update with the times. If you don’t adapt and adjust and update, you don’t even count. Nobody’s ever gonna talk about you. Nobody’s ever gonna be moved at what you’re doin’.
DX: I definitely wanted to touch on the Undergods album, but also individual questions. I wanted to touch on the Horsemen as well as the Lyrical Law track to give you some space to speak on those things.
Canibus' Manager, M-Eighty: 'Bis, do you want to do it on the call or do you want to do it in the e-mail.?
Canibus: Yeah, I think the e-mail is best. The reason why I say that is because there’s things, like I’ve been trying to say through your whole interview and I think I’ve said it several times. We have to be responsible about how anything, what’s said, we need to be responsible about how it ‘s repeated because I could say anything right now that is positive and then the way that it’s repeated it doesn’t have the effect.
So really what you would’ve done, in essence, is like you would’ve sabotaged me. You would’ve railroaded me because here I am trying to be positive about something and trying to add on to something and do something that does not affect anyone negatively, including myself, and at the same time still promote my shit. What’s wrong with promoting my shit if being exact and correct and precise about the part that I play in Hip Hop and the respect that I got for it? I don’t want to continue on with the propaganda. I don’t want to give this propaganda machine the tools that it needs to either ruin me or the thoughts of the people who are listening to me, youknowwhatimsayin.
DX: I’m not trying to railroad anybody or mess over anybody. This conversation has unlocked a whole of jewels that I can use. If M-Eighty is good enough to hook us up again, then I would definitely love to chat with you deeper on some of the stuff that we touched on.
Canibus: M knows how I am and he knows that I wouldn’t even do this interview because I really don’t even do interviews like that no more. It’s only certain things I do. I wanted to hold the Undergods thing down because it needs to be promoted and it needs to be known that it’s available, you know what I'm sayin'. It’s been a long time comin’. We had the EP. We put that out before a year and change ago.
The fact that it’s comin’ out now instead of people sayin’ "Yo man. You know, why the fuck they comin’ out with it now?" You stupid motherfucker, why would we record the shit and not put it out? What the fuck kind of question is that? If you was me and you made something and the label decided to split it and put an EP out and then that was it and then they had X amount of other songs that they weren’t gonna release and they couldn’t release that as a whole album because we had to go back in to record new material, why would we just drop the ball on our own shit, on our own self-expression?
So that’s what I mean. Nobody makes any fuckin’ sense. And my whole thing is I would rather that if you not gonna make any sense, do it to my face instead of just make no sense in the flesh where I can actively step to it because when it’s done behind the scenes it just ends up being sabotaged.
And M knows how I am. He knows I react constructively to people like you and energies such as yours. And so you can definitely check me off your list as ally and a force multiplier behind anything that you’re trying want to do.