MHz Talk Debut Album, Columbus Hip Hop & The Late Camu Tao's Impact On Group
Exclusive: The Columbus collective talks about being pioneers for the modern Hip Hop scene in Ohio's capital city, and why now is the right time. They also explain features from Blu and Danny Brown.
Usually when a young, hungry Hip Hop group assembles, a debut group effort is only inevitable soon after its assembly. In the case of MHz (now recording as "MHz Legacy"), their self-titled debut LP just released well over a decade since the group’s formation. Ironically, while a few of MHz members still live in Columbus, others are spread across the country making it even more difficult to collaborate and create. But difficulties aside, the MHz crew says they believe 2012 is the perfect time to drop their debut album especially now that their sound is crisper than in the beginning years.
“We all have a better idea of what the protocol is to make an album now,” RJD2 says. “If you were to go back 11 years, it was a bit more of a mystery I think for all of us.”
Another factor for the album’s creation and group name change was the death of longtime friend and group co-founder Camu Tao. His passing may have been four years ago but his legacy has never been forgotten.
“I think it was only right that we let people know that it’s not the exact same formula as before, we are missing one element and to also kind of pay respect to him,” Copywrite says. “It was me and Camu who first were really holding the flag for it, for MHz so I know he would be really proud with what’s going on right now.”
From the goofball days of the late '90s, spitting freestyles in front of local venues and living out life to the fullest to a collective of established artists garnering critically acclaimed work, the MHz crew have now come full circle. HipHopDX’s own Columbus native recently caught up with one of the city’s most influential groups to talk about their impact on the city they call home, their debut effort and to relive the fondest memories of Camu Tao.
The MHz Consider MHz Legacy Their True Debut Album
HipHopDX: You guys have all been doing kind of solo work even though you each have collaborated with each other on certain things. What does it mean to put out a MHz project together especially at this point in your careers?
Tage Future: I kind of look at it as a full circle-type thing because we technically never put out an album. Table Scraps was essentially a compilation of songs. We thought the songs were good but it wasn’t really an album and I would say, looking back, Table Scraps dropped in ’01 ya’ll?
MHz Crew: Sure, sounds about right. [Laughs]
Tage Future: Paul, you probably know better than we do. [Laughs] Whenever it dropped, 2002, 2003 if you would have asked us or asked me, “When [is] a MHz album coming out?” I would be like “Nah.” To say that it would have happened at all or even thought about it, I mean we went our separate ways because of life. Folks started working, other cats just perused solo efforts and things like that so I would have never thought that this could have come to fruition so I just think it’s an accomplishment personally for ourselves that we got this done so it’s a good thing man. I’m glad we were able to pull it off.
Copywrite: One thing with everybody in the group is that I’ve known them for so long and we’re such good friends that I think we could have waited like 20 more years for the sake of doing it and the chemistry and everything would still be there to do it. It goes a little deeper than music but I’m excited for it, man, it’s basically the album I’d always hope we’d make. Everything basically exceeded my expectations and I really just can’t wait for the day it drops so people can just hear it.
RJD2: Yeah, I wholeheartedly agree, I feel the exact same way, I don’t think I can add anything that’s more insightful.
Jakki Da Motamouth: I’m happy that in 2012, 'cause it’s been a long journey, that we’re able to get together and accomplish something like this.
DX: I just kind of find that strange that in probably the most difficult time you could do this, now all split up across the country, you decide to finally do the group album when it could have more easily been done when you were younger. But hey, you did it now, a lot of people anticipating this but why was now the time to come together and do this and what made you all want to do it?
RJD2: I think that making a solo album is comparatively more easy than making a group album. In a way, making a group album is kind of like herding cats and a solo album, you have one driving force that’s constantly working towards finishing the record. In a group environment, that role can be very ambiguous and it just requires a whole lot more management in a sort of nuts and bolts type of way. Part of the reason that I would assume is that now is a better time for think kind of thing to happen. We all have a better idea of what the protocol is to make an album now. If you were to go back 11 years, it was a bit more of a mystery I think for all of us. I know for me, I could just look at the back of my hand and know the procedure to roll out an album. [Copywrite] and Tage [Future] were basically the driving forces behind making sure this record got done.
Jakki Da Motamouth: For me, it was just, when I was approached with the idea this was the right time to get the verses that I could on the album. I’m sure we’re all busy, I’m a busy person but when it comes to doing a MHz album, it’s not like I was called two years ago to do this, it was at the beginning of this year so, if you’re asking me to do a MHz album why would I say no?
Copywrite: It was the fact of who everyone else is and how their minds work. I always wanted to do a project with all these people. Table Scraps isn’t a real album. If you ask anyone in MHz, it was like our demo. Nobody really saw that, it wasn’t like, “I can’t wait to hear what they say.” It was just something we slapped together cause we were trying to get our notoriety up so this was the album where we were like, “Damn man, I can’t wait till they hear this” or “I can’t wait to hear what they think about this.” Even if this is the only one we end up doing, we can at least say we tried it and damn this shit’s crazy. I never really thought we’d do it because we were all focused on our own shit.
Tage Future: I think another major event that played a role in wanting to do this is Camu [Tao’s] passing because of course his [King Of Hearts] solo project had come out posthumously and people who knew Camu before wanted others to know of his artistry and know of his craft just like anybody who’s talented and maybe they left here a little too soon. So I thought partially that this could be a way to kind of honor him and his contribution to the origin of MHz, kind of our legacy. It kind of hints the name change so that played a role as well.
The MHz Remember Vital Role Of Camu Tao
DX: That was what I was kind of wondering. Camu’s passing was a big part and maybe the essential part in the name change. Was his death the whole reason, maybe could you guys expand on that a little?
RJD2: I felt like it would be the most, it was important to me to delineate what different carnation of people is with what the different carnation of people was 11 years ago and I really felt like it was the most expeditious and simple way illustrate that and make that clear. In lieu of sitting down and having a personal conversation with every single fan, “Well this happened and then that happened and now here we are.” To me, that was an important thing. I felt like it was the most forthcoming way to approach this project because in a way it is and isn’t the same people that it was 11 years ago or whatever and I hope the reasons behind that are obvious.
Copywrite: To differentiate the fact that Camu is no longer with us, I think it was only right that we let people know that it’s not the exact same formula as before, we are missing one element and to also kind of pay respect to him. When we started doing this, none of us had any idea how far or how short we would take it. I feel like we far outreached our expectations on any of this, on putting out music worldwide or anything so. Man, it’s just crazy man, it’s just crazy to see where we started from and now, kind of how we took. Camu was a major part of that and it was me and Camu who first were really holding the flag for it, for MHz so I know he would be really proud with what’s going on right now.
DX: It’s been about four years since his passing. What are your fondest memories of him and how have you incorporated his legacy into this album?
Tage Future: As far as his thoughts looking back, we were all kind of high school age when we started this man so we were just friends. First it was just Jakki [Da Motamouth], Camu and Copy who were kind of friends first and then I kind of came into the picture and then [RJD2] came into the picture soon after that and we were just doing what we loved back then and having fun and Camu was definitely just a playful energetic spirit and very talented. To answer your question about being incorporated well he’s on the album, he’s on there a few times so we thought that was important to include some of his verses that people haven’t heard.
Jakki Da Motamouth: My fondest memories was his personality. He had a wild, crazy, silly personality and honestly I miss that. I had lived in Florida and I moved back in ’09 and I remember that I had had a conversation with him when he moved back to Columbus and I was talking to him and I was joking with him and I was like, “I'ma come up there and see you in a couple months,” and I didn’t know that I wasn’t gonna see him again. Otherwise I would have flew up to see him.
Copywrite: Man, I have so many fond memories of him and most of it’s going to be non-music, just kicking it stuff or random situations. Alright check it out, one time he was doing was doing a verse for the song “This Year” right and he kept messing up a word, he kept saying, “laxadasical” instead of “lackadaisical” so me and Elliot were telling him like, “Yo, that’s not the word,” 'cause he kept saying the word wrong and that’s how we are in the studio, like we’ll catch our friends slipping so everyone’s all honest in the studio and trying to make our rhymes tighter. And no one likes being corrected especially on a word. So this dude Camu, silent down there for a second and Elliot takes this rat doll that goes, “Trust me I’m a rat!” when you squeeze him so he squeezes him on the playback mic and Camu was like really irritated but I mean we were goofballs man and there’s so many fond memories that I have with that kid man, it’s just like having a brother, you know?
RJD2: Obviously as a producer it’s not... I don’t have that same kind of direct ability to channel an experience into a record the way that someone can with words but in terms of experiences, I’d just like to say that this is all being a very understated conversation about, [laughing] like when these guys say that Camu is funny, that’s not really, it’s almost like a bastardization of what it really is. I mean when you go back, I mean when I think of all my favorite memories, I’ll be honest there are things that are so wild and crazy and bordering on incriminating [laughing] and just the things that me and Pete and Jakki and Camu it was just, I don’t even know how to put it into words. Those dudes were crazy. [Laughs] That was a crazy ass time and it was an experience for me that was like nothing I had ever seen before and never will again. And every moment would either be on the edge of like the most funny or most terrifying or wild or weird real experience for me. [Laughs] I’m just being honest.
DX: You guys already released the "Spaceship" track with Danny Brown. Speaking of the craziness you guys used to get into it’s only fitting you have Danny Brown on the album. Why did you guys though get him involved?
Tage Future: The song is a Harry Fraud joint and Camu opens up with the song and it sounded appropriate for an artist like Danny Brown to kind of be meshed in on that particular song. I think his persona especially when I heard when I heard ‘Mu’s verse and then I heard Copy’s I was like, “Yo.” And the idea came up that Danny Brown might be on the song and we thought that would probably flow right better than any other song on [MHz Legacy].
MHz Discuss Columbus, Ohio Hip Hop History Then & Now
DX: When I think of all you guys either individually or collectively, even though I was too young for Rap at that time, it’s like I can see you in ‘99 or 2000 just being about that local scene spitting rhymes on High Street around wherever, in front of Bernie’s Bagels or Blacksheep back at its old location. It seems like you were always local first, obviously nationally respected now, you all have received some sort of high attention for something else but how important was Columbus and those dive bar shows, some of which you still do to this day? Those intimate crowds where you can feel Hip Hop in its essence…
Copywrite: I think it all starts locally, man and we’re blessed to have a decent enough Hip Hop scene. I remember when I was coming up there was a very very small Hip Hop scene here so I saw it from when it basically was nothing to being this kind of underground hotbed and have people like Blueprint and Illogic, Fly Union and everyone in MHz and RJD2 and the list goes on, so it’s an honor bro, it really is an honor no matter how other people perceive our city as little or whatever because I know what it came from. We really came a long way from a localized city to a city that’s really producing some of the greatest.
RJD2: I would say, this is probably not the answer you’re gonna expect but in a way I feel like what I would consider “The local fame” is your goal or height achievement or benchmark, I mean I think if we all went back to ’96, ’97, ’98, that era and you were to ask that version of us what our highest achievements would be, it would be the best rapper in the city, be the best producer in the city but in a way I feel like now, that perspective almost serves as a, I don’t think that for me I think what it really takes for competing and functioning on a national level is such a different thing than that local fame perspective then in a way I almost think you can think of it as a hindrance. I’ve seen people that were really good at it and weren’t good at translating it to a sustainable career on a national/international level.
Tage Future: Let me kind of piggyback off of what [RJD2] was saying right there. I think the good thing about this project is that we’ve kind of been able to sound-wise accomplish marrying those two things together. Our brand of music in the '90s, the late '90s, it’s still kind of the same now except it’s more polished and it’s a little more refined and a little more broad so in spite of us being on a more national level now or will be, we still have sprinkles of sound. I think that’s part of us and is in our DNA. Kinda how we came up and just the local scene. You talk about the spots on High Street now, I mean it was the same thing in the '90s, it was just the names of the places were different and that’s the only thing different. So I agree with RJD2 when he says it can be a hindrance but if your are able to take part of what made you polish it up and refine it then you can share it with a greater mass of people on a larger scale.
RJD2: And there’s one thing that I would like to add about this just thinking about this issue. When we were doing that era of the Hip Hop scene in Columbus, Ohio for all intensive purposes rap music was just a bunion on the ass of the Columbus music scene and it was totally disrespected. I remember this dude Derrick, who makes records under the [name of] Intellect and he’s kind of the mentor of Pete and Camu, I remember him telling us about how he literally couldn’t get booked by certain venues because as soon as they found out it was a Rap show they were like “No, no, no we don’t do that kind of thing here.” So I think it leaves an interesting dichotomy to think back to this era when, though that whole time basically from the mid-'90s to 2000 the way that things worked was there would be one club that would take a chance on a Hip Hop night and then a fight would happen and then depending on the degree of severity of that fight it would shut that night down and then a month or two or three later someone would get one night in a different club and that just piggybacked for years and years and years. It was just a thing from the music scene perspective of Columbus, it just was like they wanted rap music to go away, the Hip Hop scene to go away. So it’s funny the interesting dichotomy that now, Columbus sees the recognition that some of its Hip Hop artists have gotten as a source of pride so it’s funny kind of in a we’ve come a long way type of thing.
DX: That’s really interesting that you mention that because Columbus has always been sort of an underground culture until right now. You kind of started with S.P.I.R.I.T. and the J. Rawls-type era and then continued to you guys and MHz and you are kind of that in-between from the roots until now with the Fly Union’s, and Rashad’s and P. Blackk’s of the world who are now being celebrated both in Columbus and nationally. Where would you guys place yourselves in the context of the history of Columbus’ Hip Hop scene?
Tage Future: Part of me wants to say unsung a little bit. I feel like some of the artists that are more known now, which is a great thing, if they’re younger than us and they’re from Columbus they knew about us and we were maybe and hopefully a source of inspiration for some artists coming up under us but at the same time we did receive some recognition for being, what would we say, y'all? The first underground Hip Hop act from Columbus?
RJD2: It was perceived as a cross over from a “national act.” I personally see us as third wave of that era of people. Like you said there was like the S.P.I.R.I.T.’s and there was actually a wave and there was people making Rap music in Columbus before that in the late '80s, I didn’t know any of them, but I’m familiar with a few of their records, the 12” [records] that came out. I don’t know if that generation had anything to do with that early '90s group and then there was us so I kind of see us as the sort of third wave in relation to Columbus. Most people think of us as the first collective of people on the national level.
DX: Shifting back to the record, You feature some like-minded older-type folks on here, J. Rawls, Stu Bangas, Slug, Oh No, but then you’ve got some other newer guys like Danny Brown, Harry Fraud and Blu on here, how did you come up with this feature list?
Tage Future: Some of it was just kind of brainstorming of who may sound good on a particular song, brainstorming with the [Man Bites Dog Records] and kind of how. Like Blu, I mean you know Blu is a dope emcee and kind of thought that he was in our lane as far as content and kind of how we grew and so we thought that it would be a good match. This is not a profound answer. [Laughs] If the dude sounds good on the right beat and they just you know, made the cut. Like Oh No, Oh No is a very dope beat-maker, dope producer and he can spit and so we thought it would be a real dope concept if he’s on a song that he didn’t do the beat, !llmind did the beat so we thought that would be an interesting presentation to have somebody who may be primarily known beat making but can spit and he went first on another dope beat-maker’s beat.
DX: What’s up next for MHz in the immediate future?
Tage Future: Probably going to be doing some touring man. Myself, Jakki, Copy maybe doing some shows, I would say RJD2 is definitely the most accomplished out of all of us from being in it and we’re going to see if we can work around some scheduling things but we’ll just be performing man and just promoting the record. Who knows what happens after this. I’d like to perform, I’d like to do some shows and just kind of get out there and just keep going. The opportunities will present themselves.
RJD2: Yeah, I second that. I think that this point and the fact that we were able to make this record is, see previous statement about herding cats. I think we’re just really glad to get this record done [laughing] so if we can pull this off again that would be a triple-double or whatever you want to call it but who knows? You never know, this was a lot easier than I anticipated it to be so who knows?