Exclusive: Pricetag & Oktane run down the importance of representing California's Inland Empire, their "Come As You Are" project and why HS87 gets the first pick of Hit-Boy's beats.
Roughly six days after Audio Push released “Come As You Are,” the group mentioned the significance of being shouted out by Sean Combs. Since then, Combs has gone even further to show his love of their music. When he launched his Revolt television network, Audio Push’s video “Shine” was the third video to air. Needless to say, the duo is “shining” indeed.
Pricetag and Oktane are signed to their friend and fellow Inland Empire representative Hit-Boy’s label HS87. Hit-Boy’s demeanor and mannerisms are probably some of, if not the most inviting of anyone in the industry. While to the average person, this may be great, to other producers; this should make them a little nervous. While Hit has provided the backdrops for songs that resonate worldwide on the highest of levels, it clearly hasn’t affected him at all. Meanwhile, his artists, Pricetag and Oktane come off as a pair that can’t be intimidated—not by the music of other artists, the pressure of representing an area that for the most part hasn’t been heard from, or by working side by side with some of the biggest names in the game. It’s not forced. You can hear in their voice that everything Price and Ok say, they say, because they believe it. While the San Bernardino/Inland Empire area is larger than Los Angeles County in size, it’s been smaller in terms of reputation in the world of Hip Hop. Clearly, the voice of this area, HS87 has something to say.
Audio Push Talk Inland Empire Pride & Recent Critical Praise
HipHopDX: How did you guys feel with your “Come As You Are” project getting shouted out by the likes of Puff Daddy?
Oktane: Awesome…that shit is crazy.
Pricetag: We worked hard just to get it heard, so just the fact that somebody like Puff took one minute, four minutes—I don’t care how long—to even listen to it and tweet about it is ill. Everybody that never listened to us that’s now finally listening is happy. They feel like the found a fuckin’ treasure.
Oktane: I’m excited to shoot more visuals, because a lot of the initial response was just from Twitter and word of mouth. I’m excited to see it grow.
DX: How about the reception you got at “Rock The Bells?”
Oktane: That was crazy.
Pricetag: Yeah, performing is always crazy...high energy from us. We always come out there and just give everything.
Oktane: And that was a dream low-key. We’re from the Inland Empire, and they always had a “Rock The Bells” in San Bernadino when we were growing up. So that was a milestone, and we can just work our way up to the point of headlining “Rock The Bells” shows and killing it. We did our thing with Hit-Boy and it was ill.
DX: In line with that, how does it feel to rep the Inland Empire? People know about Southern California, but the I.E. sometimes gets overlooked.
Oktane: A lot of people that are from out there like to still try and rep L.A. They’re not proud of being from the I.E., but we are. We’re proud of knowing about every single crackin’ venue like the Carousel Mall and Ontario Mills.
Pricetag: And even more so, I get proud when I see other people trying to rep the I.E. People say they’ve been doing it, but we know the truth. To know that me and my friends are responsible for that is dope.
DX: With Hit-Boy behind you as your in-house producer and label boss, is there any added pressure? What’s that dynamic like?
Pricetag: As far as pressure, when you’re having as much fun as we’re having doing this, you don’t even worry about pressure.
Oktane: Yeah, there’s no pressure. We just create music. We did “Come As You Are” on a tour bus. That whole album was done on the Lil Wayne tour in the back of the bus just because we have a good time making music with each other. We’re all homies. So it ain’t like Hit-Boy found us on the Internet and said, “Hey I wanna sign you guys.” We grew up with each other. And the fact that we’re homies, our moms know each other, we create together and we can be honest with each other takes all the pressure away. That’s why we get the music off like we do. A lot of these cliques and crews ain’t even homies…
Pricetag: They just met and came together to make music. Literally, right before we dropped the project, I said, “As long as I like it, you like it and [Hit-Boy] like it, as soon as we leave the room it doesn’t even matter to me no more.” There’s no pressure.
DX: What’s the difference between the best songs on the project and the ones you had the most fun making?
Oktane: The song I had the most fun making was “Theme Song” for sure. That just came so naturally that we could go crazy on that. I have not found a favorite song yet, believe it or not. I’ve tried to find one, but there’s something about every song on there…
Pricetag: I love the album as a whole, but man, “Shine” is special period. Shine is just that song that if we didn’t make it, I’d have been like, “Who? How the hell did they come up with that? Why didn’t we come up with that? What are we not doing? Why aren’t we mentally and musically in the right place?” That was my favorite song to make too. “Shine” was done without no music; it was just drums and the sample. So that’s what makes it ill, because we knew what “Shine” was gonna be before anyone else.
I like the song “Anything Goes” featuring Wale, because it’s a newer song. We’d been listening to everything else for so long on tour. But I love the whole album, man.
Pricetag & Oktane Respond To Criticisms Of “Turn Up” Culture
DX: I’ve already noticed people picking up something on this project by saying “Turn Down For What?” You guys make party music, but are you getting burned out with everyone running wild with the whole “Turn Up” mentality?
Pricetag: It’s not even about people running too wild. I literally know people that party from Monday to Sunday and do it all over again. And they don’t have no job! That’s music for Monday through Friday before you actually go out and party. I’m not saying don’t party, but goddamn! Sit down sometimes.
Oktane: Yeah, it’s just a song because niggas is making music without no type of substance—no story or anything to make you feel something. “Turn Down” makes you sit and think. I don’t care if it makes you feel good or bad about yourself, you sit and you think. And that’s what music is about. There’s not a lot of music out now that makes you do that.
Pricetag: Yeah, there’s not much music that provokes feeling…at least in Hip Hop and Rap. So to have a “Turn Down” is dope.
DX: On an unfortunate note, there was a young kid, Ervin McKinness out in the I.E. that crashed his car after tweeting about driving drunk and saying “Y.O.L.O.” How much does that play into something like “Turn Down?”
Pricetag: That never came up while creating the song…
Oktane: Nah, but at the same time, we just create music off of life. That happened to be something where, shit… Turn down. Niggas shouldn’t be drinking and driving. It’s sad, but it wasn’t for that. We knew him, and it was pretty crazy to see him tweet that and for that to happen. Niggas got to be slow motion out here, man. Life is real, and it’s not a game.
DX: Definitely. So what would you say is your biggest accomplishment so far? What are you striving for?
Pricetag: For me, my biggest accomplishment is putting out “Come As You Are” as a group. We’re putting out a body of work I love that I feel is cold from top to bottom, and I think it can compete with anything out by everyone else. Everyone. And that’s from the top Billboard niggas to the rudy-poo niggas on whatever. “Come As You Are” can stand with all of them projects, and that’s what I’m proud of.
I ain’t never felt like this. There’s no amount of money or tours that compete with that. Knowing you’ve put out a body of work that you love and that the people love is ill.
Oktane: I can definitely say that. That is definitely one of [my biggest accomplishments], and another one for me as a milestone period is doing a song with Lil Wayne. That’s been a goal of mine since I started rapping. And we did a song with James Fauntleroy—that’s a dream come true. That’s on “Come As You Are” by the way. So all of this has been crazy.
Pricetag: And signing with Hit-Boy. Making music with my friends is forever gonna be up there. Seeing the homie call me… I remember when Hit-Boy called me saying that they were trying to give him a deal. He called me, and I’ll never forget that. I was buying liquor. To see that a year after that we’re on tour with Wayne and all these things, it’s all just off timing and our energy.
Oktane: I know too many people with people on their staff or niggas that they don’t even rock with to know that I’ve known these niggas for forever. That’s the bests feeling.
DX: You basically opened up the project saying everything associated with “Teach Me How To Jerk” is dead. You made a statement about the perception of your rhyme skills. Do you think you’ve been accepted?
Oktane: It ain’t even so much about being accepted. I don’t give a damn about being accepted. It’s more like, “Just shut up.” That was just for us being able to press play on the niggas who talk. It ain’t about being accepted, because you can’t front on nothing that’s dope.
Why Hit-Boy & Audio Push Feel “Come As You Are” Demands Respect
DX: Well let’s not say accepted, but respected lyrically…
Pricetag: I feel more that the body makes us respected lyrically. That was something that was a for sure goal like, “We need these niggas to respect us.” Definitely.
Hit-Boy: Just for me, seeing people I know that come from spots like Harlem—where it’s super Hip Hop fans—hit me up like, “Man, I appreciate this fuckin’ album so much. Audio Push is dope.” Those are the type of people… If we can turn those mothafuckas into fans, then we’re in a good place. We’re talking about people who would’ve never ever thought to take these niggas serious before this album. For people to hit us up and say they appreciate it so much is all we can ask for.
DX: So what is the mission statement with HS87?
Hit-Boy: To just definitely empower the youth and talented people. I’m all about the music, the art and anybody that is about that—which is everybody on my team. We just want to make the best music, and everything else is gonna fall into place.
With Hits Since 87, I was born in ’87, and I feel like I was put here to make music. I feel like I’ve been making hits my whole fuckin’ life. Every step I took from the day I was born led me here, so I feel like I was born to do this.
DX: Who all is currently on the label?
Hit-Boy: Right now, I’m signed to my label. Audio Push is signed to the label, and K. Roosevelt is signed.
Oktane: But we’ve got the whole team—Kent M$ney, B Mac The Queen, Rey Reel—all of them is the clique, man…
Hit-Boy: Music makers and just minds, man. People who have the mind to want to create something people haven’t really heard.
DX: On the project, you speak about bringing the West back. Do you necessarily feel the West has to be brought back at this point?
Pricetag: I feel like the West is back. If you really want to be real, the West is Rap right now. The West is making the best Rap music period. So the West been back, but we have a whole portion of the West Coast that hasn’t been touched, which is the Inland Empire. That’s the biggest empire in California…the biggest county in the whole state of California. We’re from there, and we feel like we’re some of the most talented people in the world. So we’re telling a different story from the West. Dr. Dre and so many other people got to tell their California, West Coast story, and we’re about to tell our California, West Coast story.
DX: When Kanye got in the game some people didn’t want to mess with him until he produced for Jay? Between your own bond and having this huge opportunity through your own imprint, how do you know who is genuine?
Hit-Boy: It depends…if they’re just asking me to send beats, that’s kind of like, “OK, whatever.” I’ll send stuff here and there, but when an artist hits me up to go in with me, wants to know my ideas and be part of the creative process, that’s when you’re gonna get the best Hit-Boy. I’m not at a point anymore where I can just sit in my room all day and make beats. That’s not reality. I have to worry about Audio Push, K. Roosevelt and real life situations on top of trying to be an artist and balancing out producing for other people. So the way to get the best music from me is to sit down and really make music.
Pricetag: And I can honestly say we’re not in this music business to make friends. If you’re genuine or not, it really doesn’t matter, because if we’re gonna make music, it’s because we’re fans of your music. We’re in it for the art of making music not to make friends. But we have befriended people. There are some people in this industry that are opportunists, and we see through that. So we’re like, “Okay, this is just a check. It’s this or that.” And then, some people we rock with. We got enough homies. Our clique—HS87 and B.O.W.—is homies from day one, so we got enough homies. We ain’t trippin’ if niggas ain’t genuine or not. It is what it is.
Audio Push & Hit-Boy Discuss Diverse Influences & 2013 Triumphs
DX: Earlier I asked Price and Oktane about their biggest accomplishment so far. What about you, Hit…what’s yours?
Hit-Boy: As a producer, it’s winning a Grammy and winning Producer of the Year. That’s two of the top honors in music, and I remember going to the BMI Awards from 2007 through 2010 and never winning shit. I finally ended up winning Producer of the Year the second year I started to make a name for myself in a real way. And buying my mom a fuckin’ house, man. That’s what this shit brought to me. If nothing else, my family’s happy.
DX: So as an artist now, are you picking more beats with yourself in mind?
Hit-Boy: I’m mostly in the studio. I’m not just at home writing raps all day; I’m trying to sit down and really make a song. So I’m in there trying to evoke certain emotions and shit.
Oktane: I can answer that. He used to make beats before and be like, “Hell naw, I’m keeping this shit for myself [laughs].” I’ve seen that before. I would tell you some priceless knowledge that we know, but I can’t. But in other words, there’s certain shit that people are gonna get and certain shit that’s staying in the HS87 house. There are certain beats that certain people ain’t gonna get. “Rowdy A” is a beat that niggas can’t get…we’re keeping that here.
DX: You set the tone for a lot of albums from Watch The Throne to Jay Z and Drake. How does that feel?
Hit-Boy: That feels incredible—especially when I do the part of my set and see the reaction from playing four or five beats that I did. People don’t even be knowing that I did those mothafuckas, so it’s still so much for people do discover with myself and the label. It’s dope man, and I’m just trying to really keep this shit poppin’. I feel like we’re at the super beginning.
DX: So what did you guys all come up listening to?
Pricetag: Me personally, I grew up listening to real West Coast music—[Dr. Dre’s] 2001. The first Rap album I bought was The Marshall Mathers LP. But Sugafree, E-40, Tha Eastsidaz, Dr. Dre—I listened to everybody on that whole 2001 tracklist. But I listen to all music though. I listened to Alternative and all types of different music. I listen to Sade, Musiq Soulchild, The Fray, fun…
Hit-Boy: And for me to chime in, when you listen to the albums, you hear a lot of R&B influences. With “Shine” and “I Like It” how it’s flipped at the end, it almost made me feel like Teddy Riley was back in here.
Pricetag: And then when you listen to “Club 380” you hear our West Coast roots at the end. There ain’t nothing that sounds as cold as the end of “Club 380” right now to me. That shit just makes you feel good. You feel alive, man. That shit is amazing, bro.
Oktane: All the people they said, but I listen to mad different stuff. Real shit, I do listen to John Mayer. I listen to all types of music, and I like anything that sounds good—whether that be OutKast, John Mayer…
Pricetag: We listen to too much different shit, and that’s what makes Audio Push. That’s what makes us able to make a song like “Tis The Season” that smacks. You get those different songs on our project because we listen to so much different music.
DX: We interview a lot of artists, and they often say they don’t listen to other rappers. As you guys have gotten deeper in the game, how do you still remain fans?
Oktane: It’s not that I don’t listen to them, or even that I don’t respect them. I just feel a gang of artists are not doing music to be a legend anymore. Too many people are making songs just to get on real quick, then they get off, and you don’t know about them in six months. I want to see a lot more people focused on music...making great ass music. I have never been associated with another rapper and he goes, “Man, I’m trying to win a Grammy with this song.” Knowing that we have those conversations about our music, that’s what I’m focused on. Whether that’s big legends or whoever we gotta work with, I’m just saying I haven’t seen that.
Pricetag: Honestly man, after creating “Come As You Are,” I haven’t been listening to a lot of people. It’s because my taste level and my ear level is at a different… Certain shit, I don’t even want to hear. It’s like, “Ugh, that’s raggedy.” And it’s not to hate on them or what they’re making, I just don’t like listening to it. But there’s also certain stuff we do like listening to, so it’s selective. If it’s good music—whether it’s trap, dance or whatever—we’ll listen to it. But a lot of these Rap niggas is garbage.