Underground Report (A-Plus, Phat Kat, Verbal-E)

posted July 05, 2007 12:00:00 AM CDT | 9 comments

Ready to travel? This month, were going around the country to find different spots to see underground Hip-Hop represented. First, well head down to the sunny, scorching hot Las Vegas. Dont think its all bright lights and casinos, though, as Verbal-E from The Chapter shows us what its really like.

After that, well visit Phat Kat in Detroit to see just why he thinks Detroit Hip-Hop radio sucks. We added a video of a track he talks about, just to keep things interactive.

In the end, well fly out west towards the Bay. A-Plus, from Hiero and Souls of Mischief, sat down to speak on history, police annoyance, West Coast Hip-Hop, Jamaica and more.

(Click to go straight to Detroit emcee; Phat Kat aka Ronnie Cash)
(Click to go straight to Heiroglyphics' A-Plus)

Verbal-E: Shining Light on Las Vegas

The Chapter
has been gaining momentum as time has passed. Theyve had to overcome obstacles but the pay off has been great. The crews emcee, Verbal E, took some time to speak with HipHopDX about life, Hip-Hop, Las Vegas and the politics of it all.

Although the crew reps Las Vegas, Verbal-E explained that most of his sound comes from Chicago. The emcee noted that he and producer 3Sixty are from the Chi. Born and raised, he said.

However, they have been in Las Vegas for quite some time, crafting songs and making a name for themselves since they moved there to attend UNLV. Oddly enough, the pair didnt get a chance to meet until the college days.

We grew up in the same neighborhood, about 8 houses down from each other, and never metWhen I got to UNLV, I used to see this cat doing talent shows and Id see 3sixty doing all of this stuff. So, one day, I bumped into him on the bus and asked him what he was listening to. He said Poor Righteous Teachers. Then he asked me what I was listening to, I said Poor Righteous Teachers.

As time passed, they crossed paths again and linked up. From there on, we just been working together, evolving the sound until eventually, it manifested into a live band.

Later, they found out they werent only from the same street, they also had the same friends and they found out one more thing they had in common.

Our pops grew up together. It sounds like a made up story, but it truly isnt. My pops and his pops used to kick it in the same circle. We didnt even find that out til seven years later from our relationship. They bumped into each other like Oh, man. I know this cat! Everything comes full-circle with us. We almost breathing the same breath and thinking with the same brainHes my brother.

Together, they managed to make noise in the underground for years. Make enough noise and youll be recognized. Such was the case as their persistence paid off when Amir ?uestlove Thompson of The Roots got a hold of a copy of their record. This catapulted them into a slew of critical praise and a more successful album. This also helped The Chapter join the Okayplayer compilation.

My manager entered us into a contest on Okayplayer.com to be represented on their first album with The Roots, Little Brother, Mad Skillz. The Okayplayer staff chose Nicolay and Supastition for the compilation. And then, ?uestlove personally chose our selection. Then, he stood up for us when a lot of people on Okayplayer for a long time wasnt too happy with the selection because we were brand new to the scene. He stood up for us and said we were gonna be a part of the new revolution in Hip-Hop. That opened a lot of doors.

The next album, Us Vs. Them gained major notoriety and the praise began pouring in.

We were on every major magazine for it. We was on all the major internet sites. Even HipHopDX wrote a little something about it.

Getting there was no easy feat. So whats been the biggest obstacle theyve had to overcome? Just being from out here, he said. When people think of Las Vegas, they think of the big lights and the strip, the casinos, the sexEverything but true Hip-Hop music. he says with a laugh. When people hear thats where were from, theyre automatically jaded. We have to overcome that.

The misconceptions of Vegas life have hurt them, but as he says in the new album, things could change.

Were on the brink of breaking the city to the people so they can see and hear the true sound coming out of here. It is authentic music from the soul, from the heart and its not all necessarily playalistic gangsterism or whatever from their preconceived notions.

However, Verbal also sees something else coming soon.

Nas caught a lot of flack from making the album Hip-Hop is Dead. It had to be said. If its not dead, its definitely dying. Its over saturated. The talent level has decreased. The originality and innovation in the music is dwindling. The way I see it going, is that it will implode on itself.

He isnt scared, though.

Its nothing to fear if youre doing something thats true. True music and true art always stands the test of time. It happened to blues, jazz, rock & roll and disco.
He went on to add that hed still be making rap records if there was no money involved.

True music will continue to live and breathe. There will always be true fans of true Hip-Hop.


For more on The Chapter, visit www.chaptercrew.com. Their latest project, Prewreckwizit, is in stores now. Their new album, Advanced Studies, will be out in the last quarter of this year.


Phat Kat A.K.A. Ronnie Cash has been making his rounds in the underground rap world for quite a minute. After working with serious heavyweights like his good friend Dilla, Guru, Black Thought and DJ Premier, hes coming with a new album and even more guests. This time around, hes hit the lab with Truth Hurts and up-and-comers Black Milk and Guilty Simpson. With Carte Blanche in stores, he sat down to speak on Detroit, Dilla, life and those who helped him along the way.

What was it like growing up in Detroit? What were the toughest odds you had to go against?

Thats a heavy question right there. My biggest obstacle was to survive on the streets of Detroit. Its a blessing that Im here. I never talk about it because I aint proud about it. I had numerous encounters with near death experiences. I seen a lot of friends die right in front of me. I done been robbed! Cats been with me and been shot. Detroit is a crazy place, man. Its a blessing to still be here.

What caused you to leave that and go with rap?

What made me go a hundred percent with Hip-Hop was the death of my best friend. It was an epiphany. The drugs and all that wasnt a route for me. Its tragic that it took death to wake me up to go hard at the music thing.

A lot of people dont know about this placeSo, can you please let everyone know about the Rhythm Kitchen?

Rhythm Kitchen! [Laughs] The Rhythm Kitchen was a little Chinese food spot that people used to go to. We played Hip-Hop and had open mics. Thats where me and Dilla first hooked up at. Dilla, Proof, Slum, everybody. All the cats who are doing something now, used to go there.

Who were some artists that guided you along the way?

Black Thought from The Roots, Talib Kweli, dead prez, GuruIts been a few. Pete Rock. He helped me fine tune my shit.

I know you have some beef with Detroit radio. Howd that come about? Is it because they arent supportive?

They never supported anything that local artists do unless you kiss their ass. Im not cut like that. They need to be kissing my ass to play my music. Really, I dont give a fuck about Detroit radio, to be truthful. My shit dont fit their format. I dont think Cold Steel would sound right coming out Lean Wid it Rock Wid It. [Laughs] Its up to the people to speak up and tell the people in power to play something good. Right now, theres no balance.

The reason they arent playing my album is because I got a song on there called True Story Pt. 2. A few days after Dilla passed away and the program director is there. We playing Dilla stuff and he dont know who Dilla is. He dont even know who I am. My song comes on and hes like This song is great! Who is this? And Im fuckin standing right next to him! I asked him, You serious? Hes like Yeah, I love that song! I told him, Thats my song. He's all Why havent I ever heard it? I was like, Cause motherfucker, you probably never put it in your motherfuckin program, bitch!

Lets say theres someone out there like the program director, who has never heard you before. What can folks expect from your music?

What you can expect is raw, real, no watered down, pure Hip-Hop. Im just trying to raise the awareness of Detroit Hip-Hop.

Before we leave, we have to speak on this. Since you knew him so well and he was a friend of yours, can you please share your most vivid memory of Dilla?

Its been so many but [laughs]One of my favorite, most funniest times was when we recorded the Welcome to Detroit song. I just remember him calling me at 3 in the morning. I recorded it earlier in the night, like at 12. I went home and he went back to mix it. He called me and played the song over the phone and I went bananas! I went crazy.

For more on Phat Kat/Ronnie Cash: www.myspace.com/phatkatakaronniecash

VIDEO: Phat Kat-Cold Steel

A-Plus: A Hiero Story

Why dont you take me through your life and what made you who you are today?

Well, first of all, I was born in Denver, Colorado. My parents came from Jamaica. My sister was born a few years before me, in New York. They went to New York, straight from Jamaica and then started making their way west when they had me in Denver. I ended up moving a lot out here, to Jamaica and Denver and a couple of other places out here. Till [I was five], we settled in Oakland and I been here in Oakland ever since. Its kind of a little fucked up out here, even though I love it. Theres always been drama going on out here with the government, police and crime and drugs and all that shit.

Growing up, what did you listen to?

I listened to a lot of music growing up. Between my parents, they came from Jamaica and when they came out here, they ended up liking a whole lot of different sh-t. So, I was exposed to that as a youngster. The first time I heard Hip-Hop was in 79. My pops played it for me. He was like, Man, youll like this. Theyre saying poems over disco beats. [Laughs] Thats what he said. Shit, I heard that and I was like Man, this is incredible. And around 82, I heard The Message. I said, Im gonna start rappin. Well, back then, I was probably pretty weak but thats where it started. Ever since then, I used to tell my parents Imma be a rap star. That was just my whole focus.

So, when was the last time you visited Jamaica?

Well, my of my family is still there. I love it. I go there all the time. I already took my son there once. Hes six. I took him out when he was three. Im bout to take him back. I go every year. I got fam out there so its a little different from being a tourist, you know what I mean?

Earlier, you touched on the cops and the government in Oakland. In your new album, you say:

Them shady cops wondering what we up to Go find out who killed my aunti and uncle. Till then; Fuck You.

Can you tell me about that line and what it meant to you? What did you think about when you wrote it?

Yeah, I didnt even care if I was gonna get in any trouble at all. Its something that Id never mention on a Souls album or a Hiero album, but being that its my album, I was thinking more personal stuff. It really stemmed from this one time; we had bought this big building in East Oakland. All the Hiero bought this big compound. We call it the Hiero Compound. Its like a huge building and we got all kinds of shit. We got an office space, some studio space in there that we rent out to a couple cats and we got our silk screen and shit in there and we have our offices. So, it was a big accomplishment for us when we copped it. But, it is in the hood, though. So, you know cops was coming up to us asking what we was doing and sh-t and trying to see if we knew what was going on with the other people in the neighborhood. We was like Man, we up in here doing business. Leave us the fuck alone. I was just thinking about that, that day. These motherfuckers bugging us, and theres murders going on right now. They fucking with some entrepreneurs up in here, trying to see what we doin. It made me think, both of my auntie and uncle are [victims of] unsolved murders. So, it just popped in my head like You know, why dont you find out who killed them instead of trippin; off me trying to make a living. It was just one of them things that popped in my head. I didnt plan it out or nothing. I just happened to be writing that song around the time that happened.

Youve got a lot of Hip-Hop history. Out of everything, what are the top 3 moments that stick out in your head? Top 3 moments you cherish.

One would definitely be on the Souls of Mischief first tour; we toured with De La Soul and Tribe Called Quest. I remember when it came to hometown, when it came into Frisco, it was really incredible. It was the first time my whole family was in the house. It was still a brand new thing that I had an album out that was doing well and all that, you know? It was just real dope to have my whole family in the house and it happened to be my Pops birthday so I got the whole crowd to sing Happy Birthday to him so that shit sticks out in my head.

Then, back in the day, when Del was working on his album in L.A. with Da Lench Mob. We was in school, so whenever we had time, wed be kicking it with them. Wed be down at the Lench Studio in South Central. It was wild! We couldnt walk to the McDonalds at night time and shit. It was crazy. We used to be in there with gangsters and shit. Not only was they gangstas, these people is niggas you know. We was just bugged out. Even though I grew up with Del and motherfuckers had known OShea from before because thats Dels cousin. Well, thats really Cube but back then he wasnt Ice Cube. That was still a big deal cause he was a mega star at the time. All the boys were real cool taking care of us. Kam was down there. [Sir] Jinx was down there. DJ Pooh was down there. The Lench Mob boys were down there. It was crazy and that was before I had my record deal. It was surreal.

Another time would betheres quite a fewI dont knowJust like going to other places. You know, being in Prague and shit or going to the Berlin Wall or being in Tokyo. Just being able to travel like that because I cant image that Id be traveling like this without music. So, I take that into account whenever I go anywhere just to stay humble about it and keep it fresh.

Aside from Cube, who were some influences growing up?

Melle Mel, Run DMC, UTFO, KRS, Public Enemy, NWA, and then Guru, Redman, Rakim, EPMD, De La Soul, Tribe Called Quest, Leaders of the New School. I love Snoop, Dre and Too ShortMan, Im a Hip-Hop fan first. I just got fortunate enough to be in the club.

Have you met a lot of emcees who came up to you like A, you influenced me!

Yeah, man. I wouldnt say that everybody said I influenced them or whatever but theyd come up like Yo, I used to bump yo shit. I remember I met Eminem before he came out. He was local with his crew in Detroit. People was hatin on them and other rappers was trying to hate. They was not even trippin. They did they shit. They came up like We love yall sh-t. Then, when he blew up he thanked us in his liner notes. I was kind of juiced about that like Thats a cool nigga. Also, Outkast. When I met them back in the day, they was like We dig yall shit. I was like Fuck. I dig yall shit. Its been a lot. I aint trying to name drop too much, but its been cool to be on the other end. It feels surreal to me even after all this time. I remember one time Snoop Dogg shouted us out on the radio. I was extra juiced about that!

I interviewed Musab last month, and he said a lot about Hieros camp and how you guys are all like a family. Thats a rare sight in Hip-Hop. Can you speak on what created the unity and how its stayed that way?

Hiero, we basically grew up together. All of us. If we werent doing music, wed still be partners. When we got older, we just started doing business together. So, the people who join us, like Knowbody, Musab or O.C. its the same. Its like family. We like to do business like that. We just trying to make sure everybody see it like that.

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