The Underground Report (May)

posted May 16, 2007 12:00:00 AM CDT | 6 comments

This month's Underground Report brings you three exclusive interviews with some of the Underground's illest. Up first is DJ Rhettmatic of The Beat Junkies and The Visionaries. Following Rhett is Move.meant's MC Champ. Finally, we have Mystic, one of the brightest female MCs on the planet.

All of these artists share their views on a lack of balance that has permeated the Hip-Hop culture for years. Talk also goes into J Dilla, education, gun glorification, females in rap, the industry and more. Read on

DJ Rhettmatic

DJ Rhettmatic has been putting in work for years. His grind as a solo act, as well as with The Beat Junkies and The Visionaries, has led him to become one of the most well known and well respected DJs today. He recently sat down to rap it up with HipHopDX about everything from J Dilla to youth in Hip-Hop.

HHDX: So whats in store for you, for the rest of the year?
: Im about to go on tour with the Visionaries in Europe around MayAlso, with The Beat Junkieswe do a once a month [event] in Hollywood at The Knitting Factory. Our particular night is called Night Life. Its just The Beat Junkies and Rakaa Iriscience from Dilated Peoples. Hes our hostIts a 21 & over jump off. Its more for cats to dance and stuff to good musicGetting cats to have a good time and dance.

HHDX: How do you feel about the youths place in the culture?
: Im 37 years old and Ive been DJin for 25 years. I know a lot of younger cats are like Whats this? Ive even gone on message boards or websites and seen [reactions like] Oh, hes played out, or That stuff is old, and blah, blah blah. Their [the younger generations] old school is like the Wu Tang or The Roots. They have a shorter attention span and you cant knock them for that. Hip-Hops a young mans sportThe new generation has to be involved with itInstead of critiquing it just be fans. If you complain about it, do something about it! You know?.Its not an easy answerWe need some type of balance.

HHDX: Do you feel Hip-Hop lacks that balance?
: I dont mind if theres a "Laffy Taffy" out there. But next to "Laffy Taffy", play a Dilated Peoples. Everybody should have time to shineTo me, good music is good music regardless if its mainstream or underground.

When asked about any underground acts to watch, Rhett shed light on dope rappers under the radar.

"Theres a lot of dope cats out there,"
he noted before mentioning Trek Life, Glasses Malone, Guilty Simpson and Bishop Lamont.

Hes sick, he said of Lamont. Hes signed to Aftermath, but what I love about him [is that] hes bridging the gap between mainstream and underground.

He also went on to name a host of other MCs including Black Milk, Strong Arm Steady, Pigeon John, Vakill, and El-P.

Rhett added that he has been working with the likes of RBX, producer J-Rawls, MED, Oh No and other Stones Throw MCs. He also noted that he has spoken to K-Solo and Canibus about a possible collaboration. Aside from all this, expect to hear Rhett scratching on Eardrum, the highly anticipated Talib Kweli album. For those who have been waiting, he actually spoke of possibly making a solo album, which is sure to attract longtime fans along with new ones.

With many rappers and producers admiring his work, hes gotten a chance to achieve a lot in the culture. Still, he shared one of his most precious memories in Hip-Hop with DX.

Im very lucky that I have gotten close to-before he passed away-J Dilla and his mother. I was his DJ for his last tour in Europe, he told us. Little did I know that would be his last show whatsoever, or last tour. During that time, I really got close to him.

For more on Rhettmatic, check him out here:

Move.meant: Champ

Move.meant isnt sitting still. The critically acclaimed trio of Champ, Spider and Just Beats have come together to form a collective meant to move. With intelligent, yet interesting rhymes and some of the most refreshing beats (and scratches) of 2007, they provide the underground with uplifting messages, clever wordplay and head nodding rhythms. Now, they have finally released their first full length album The Scope of Things after gaining serious praise for their previous EPs Move.meant and Good Money. The time has come. Needless to say, there is relief in the air.

HHDX: How does it feel to have the new album out?
: Im feeling good, man. It can be tough to put an album together and trying to line up everything. Especially independently, you dont always have the money or the resources to make things happen as quickly as you want to. Im real excited.

HHDX: Tell us a little bit about your younger years.
Champ: I grew up pretty blue collar. Im from Michigan Where Im from people are just real hard working, down to Earth people. I kind of grew up with that mentality. My fathers an ex Marine so he was tough on me and taught me to work hard but always encouraged me to do my best. That kind of gave me a sort of strength. Also, growing up and seeing a lot of he stuff the area Im from went though in the 80s and 90s and its still going though now, really. The factories [are] closing and theres a high unemployment rate. Its hard for people to find work and obviously that causes people to be desperate and theres a lot of crime and things like that, too. Just seeing how that affected everybodyThat became a part of who I am. I touch on a lot of those themes in the music.

Move.meant is, however, primarily based in California . This even shines though in the music, while maintaining a lot of the East Coast essence, there is a lot of Western influence on the rhymes and even some of the production. As we discussed, this comes, in some form, from the influence the environment of the West has had on Champ.

Ive only been in L.A. for about four or five years. I was in Northern California first. I bounced around a little bit but ended up in The Bay for like three or four years. Probably the biggest influence of living on the West Coast is, its much more diverse from where I grew up at, and theres a lot more cultural awareness. This was, to me, huge. Its been a big influence on me. From where Im from, where is pretty much just black and white and theres so many different people from so many different places. Theres so much to learn from everybody and different perspectives on life.

As noted, he does speak out against injustice in work, schools and politics but also touches on different cultures and perspectives. When asked for his influences, one truly sees why.

One of the reasons I really latched onto Hip-Hop was because, when I started listening to groups like Public Enemy, they really had something to say. That really resonated with me, he said of his start in Hip-Hop. It took off from a hobby and became a lot more.

Chuck D drew me in. That was importantActually, Digital Underground,[too]. Their stuff was so creative...But when I first heard songs that really made me want to write It was like Nas and Common. Those dudes were on a whole nother level. They took it to a whole nother place. That was at a time in my life where I started thinking Maybe potentially I could do this myself...And theres a million others, like The Roots that inspired me as well. But those are the most prominent ones.

Champ isnt anti-major labels, as many indie acts seem to be. Actually, he is open to it, as long as he doesnt have to sacrifice too much.

I think a lot of people in Underground Hip-Hop sometimes peg certain artists with like, You have to only do a certain type of music all the time. I wouldnt sacrifice who I am or things I write about But I do want to build on that, he said before explaining how he feels about the groups new LP. If it had a budget behind it, I feel like [The Scope of Things] is accessible to a pretty broad audience. Its just a matter of getting it out to em. I dont feel limited to an underground sound per seIm just exploring different styles and trying to do different things.

With the new album, he rhymes about calling people out. So, who are some acts hed like to call out?

Everybody thats glorifying killing and stuffCmon, youre a grown man! A lot of dudes are like on their third, forth or fifth album. Ima say it like this. If you put out your first album and thats what youre coming from on that album, I can totally give you a pass. If youre fresh off the streets and thats all you know and youre passionate about it and all youre really doing is trying to put your life on wax, then I cant be mad at you. But, cmon manfive albums later and youre still glorifying the same type of shit? Theres young dudes out in the streets that cant rap! Its not an option for them to get out of their situation by rapping and theyre out there dealing with the consequence of gunplay being glorified. Theres so many people doing it that the list would be infinite. If youre that dude, then you know youre talking about all these guns and shit like that. Its not helping anybody in your community.

This brings up interesting points. As with Rhettmatic, the conversation swayed into a void that needs to be filled in the culture.

Its just that balance. Where is the balance? Im not mad at the party records. Im not mad at the South...Im not mad at the stuff thats out there but I am looking for the other side. It wasnt always like that. It wasnt all one sided. Right now, it feels really one sided. Right now, theres very little stuff that provides an alternative in the mainstream. The story telling and great aspects of Hip-Hop is just lacking. Why can you not play a Young Jeezy and then a Talib video right after it on BET? I just want to see some balance, he noted.


For those who dont know, Mystic is one of the most talented singers/rappers in the game. Despite having her hit The Life everywhere from the airwaves to commercials, she is still somewhat unknown to the mainstream. Now, armed with a new solo LP, a new group and some more ambitious goals, she is set to change the game.

Shes stayed out of the limelight since her debut Cuts for Luck and Scars for Freedom hit stores. That album touched many with deep, intriguing and diverse qualities stemming from introspective, thought provoking material such as Fatherless Child. But, what has kept her gone for so long?

Everything is good, man. Ive been in the studio. Ive been in school. I just got back from a tour in Europe that was excellent, she said of her hiatus.

The time between albums has allowed her to grow as a person.

There may be new perspective in the sense that, its been some years, and I have grown as a human being and as a woman. There are lessons that I have learned when it comes to loving myself and loving other people. The state of the world is different, though I didnt think the world was in a great state to begin with. In terms of direction of the album, its still a mix of rhymin and singin, and everything thats singin is based on Hip-Hop.

The next album is essentially done. Eligh from Living Legends has the largest number of songs on the album. Theres also production from the Beatminerz, and this young dude who actually found me on MySpace and was really dope (Adamatic), and Sample 208 (who produced Neptunes Jewels on the first album).

Some surprises are sure to come on this album, as a big named Chicagoan is behind the boards on a couple of tracks.

Theres a possibility that a couple of the songs, that were supposed to be for the re-release but didnt come out, will be on the album just because I think they are beautiful pieces of music and Id like to share them. Those are produced by Kanye West.

Aside from having these acts on it, this album has no record label behind ityet.

Why not?

I wanted to make the album that I wanted to make with the people that I wanted to work with, and put it all together: sequence it; mix it; master it; come up with the art work; and then take meeting with people, she told

This process gave her a freedom to do as she wanted, with no constraints.

The time between albums has also given her a path to a new collective. She wanted to let the world know that she has also started a new group.

Theres a new group called This, That and a Third and its with Dave Ghetto and Hezekiah. I just want people to keep their eyes and their ears peeled for that.

With that ahead, how can we avoid speaking on the past? Throughout history, women have not been given much credit in rap. Aside from a few names, most people still claim women do not belong behind a mic stand in the culture. What does Mystic think about this?

Changing a perception is an individual process. I dont know that everybody is exposed to someone like me or to Jean Grae. I dont think people are exposed so they go off what they go off. And its still true in 2007 that people are like 'females cant rap.' I think they are confused. I dont think they have the proper information. Part of what the deal is, is that, music is about art, but the music business is about businessTraditionally, albums from female artists do not do huge numbers. And youve had people do beautiful numbers from Queen Latifah to Da Brat to MC Lyte to Lauryn Hill to Lil Kim to Foxy Brown. Its just that when you compare that to what you see from male artists, its definitely a small part of the pie.

Females who can rap isnt the only thing that people arent getting. As talk moved to the state of the culture, Mystic noted a lack of creativity that exists.

On this, she stated:

"I tend to think that a lot people can be more creative. I think theres a lot thats out that sounds exactly the same. I think theres only so many ways to tell a woman to bend over, touch herself and shake what shes got. I think theres only so many ways to talk about money. I think there can definitely be more creativity. However, I also honor people for being creative and trying to express them selves. Just because I dont like somebodys record or their single doesnt mean that I dont believe that they need to support their families and feed their children. I just think that we need to be a little bit more aware of how it affects everybodys children.

Im a believer that things go in circles and cycles. Im hoping that we will go into a cycle where there will be more balance. But when you talk about the conversation of balance, we were having the same conversation in 1990It was a little bit more balanced, but people wanted to see more balance.

I think there has to be change within the structure of the music industry. It will take the community. If you dont dig it, dont buy it. If it doesnt sell they wont put it out. Its basic economics. A lot of people are digging it, but I think that if they had exposure to other stuff, they could dig that too. Now, if youre just used to eating one thing, does that mean thats all youre supposed to eat? If youre not exposed, if somebody doesnt offer you a different plate of food, how do you know if youre going to like it or not?

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