Going through creative rigamarole is therapeutic for Pep Love. The Oakland, California pioneer and Hieroglyphics representer relishes the redemptive power of wading through the artistic process - trial and error, digging through the crates, writing rhyme after rhyme. For him, “music soothes the savage beast.” That’s why he entitled his sophomore release, Rigamarole. “You have to go through the rigamarole,” he says. “You have to go through the therapy”
In this exclusive interview with HipHopDX, Pep Love discusses how his thought process has changed since his 2001 debut, Ascension, Rap’s gentrification, what surprises him about Hip Hop, and why he’s impressed with Oakland’s new generation.
HipHopDX: I’ve been listening to the press copy of Rigamarole for a couple of days now. It feels like Hip Hop to me.
Pep Love: Thanks, man. Thanks. That’s what I was going for.
DX: This is being billed as your first solo project since Ascension. How has your thought process changed given the drastic changes in this industry since your 2001 solo debut?
Pep Love: You know what, I’m not sure yet because it’s been a minute and things have changed a lot since I put out Ascension; even since Hieroglyphics put out Full Circle [in 2003]. A lot has changed in that window of time. I think the only real way to know how my thought process has changed with the business is by doing what I’m doing. By just putting something out and seeing what it is I need to do to succeed and what I’m trying to accomplish.
But as far as the process of making the album, I don’t think anything’s changed because of the way the industry has changed. Well, I think it affects everything, but those are ways that I can’t necessarily describe. I know what has changed for me personally is just my process on how I get music done.
DX: How so?
Pep Love: I think that’s part of how the whole industry has changed, too. Everyone has their home studio now. Depending on how much you can invest into it, you either have the coolest sound or the crappiest sound out of your home studio. I record myself. I’m not dependent on others to get music done. That’s one of the things I’d say has changed. It’s cool in one way because I can get music done regardless. It’s also not as cool because sometimes you find it’s hard to work inside the same room with people. Everybody just sends music back and forth over the Internet.
DX: Who’s behind the production on Rigamarole?
Pep Love: It’s a lot of new producers I’ve been working with for over the last year. Steven King who works right here in the studio with me. A guy named Billion Coast. This is kind of his first opportunity to get something out there. He produced the song “Can’t Nobody Do It Like Us” and a couple others. Scandal Beats who produced the song “Hip Hop My Friend” that we have the video for. And Unjust from Chosen Few. New and up and coming producers, I’d say. I’m producing, but I didn’t actually produce anything fully on this album. I maybe helped out with some ideas - maybe helped get a loop on time here and there.
DX: Every time I hear record with a sample these days, it really stands out just given how expensive sampling has become. Sometimes it feels as if it’s gotten to the point where it’s nearly illegal.
Pep Love: Come and get me. That’s what I say. If they even know that I sampled their music, then this song must be doing something. It must be garnering some kind of attention. I know for my latest song, I read an article where somebody figured out what sample it was and wrote it in the article. I’m like, “Thanks a lot, buddy.”
DX: [Laughs] Wow, snitching has come a long way.
Pep Love: If someone was looking around and found that article that means I’m getting some kind of attention. Maybe we’ll get a cease and desist notice. We produced this record freely and without any constraints. We enjoyed digging through records and finding new samples. The sampling thing is not gonna stop. I think it’s going to get even more to the point to where they can’t even keep up with it. I think when it’s something that’s commercially successful, then okay, pay these people. You’re making millions off of this record so pay the people. I feel like we recreate the music when we sample it. I honestly feel like they shouldn’t worry about getting money from somebody who doesn’t have money. You clear a sample up front if you have the budget to do so. Honestly, if my record has enough success to where I can pay the sample, I’ll look for all the people that we sampled from and try to break them off something. I respect music because I do music. I won’t hustle it from nobody.
DX: Are you considering licensing opportunities with Rigamarole? That’s become somewhat of a stop-gap for artists who lose sales to pirating. Sampling makes it difficult to exploit those opportunities, especially if not cleared beforehand.
Pep Love: Of course licensing is a key way to make money. But still, you have to make enough noise. I mean, maybe you could just do a jingle and it doesn’t matter if you’re anonymous rapper and they don’t even know who you are. I think the real way to get the most out of that is if you have some kind of name value. If a song is going to get licensed for a commercial or whatever, I would hope that it’s because they feel there is some connection with the audience, for me as an artist. You have to build your profile as an artist regardless. If you’re just trying to be a musician do whatever it takes to get whatever kind of little money you can get, then maybe. I don’t think that’s sustainable. I think it’s more sustainable if you are an artist that is a force to be reckoned with on your own. All of the publishing opportunities - getting placement, getting licensed - are still based on your success as an artist.
DX: My favorite line on “Hip Hop Is My Friend” is: “We got greedier when the media showed up / And got needy when the city disowned us.” Break down the thought process behind that line, if you don’t mind. I think it’s really interesting with 30-plus years of public Hip Hop behind us.
Pep Love: It’s a trip because those things rhyme with each other like that. There’s a straight up connection between the two. In the beginning, Hip Hop was searching for some sort of mass or commercial appeal that reaches outside of the city [because that’s where Hip Hop was coming from]. We wanted regular people, the masses of America - White, Black, everybody - people with money to really buy into it. Now it’s going the opposite direction. Now the city doesn’t even know about records. Urban Hip Hop is the mainstream masses. You have to get big first, before the inner city will embrace you. It used to be the other way around. Hip Hop was from the inner city. You had to get big before the rest of the world would start to acknowledged you and now it’s somehow reversed. So it’s like “we got greedier when the media showed up,” and “then we got needier when the city disowned us.”
DX: Then you continue with “...And gentrification is a process to progress.” Sometimes it does feel like Hip Hop is gentrified. The shift you mention is similar to reverse white flight where living downtown in cities all over America is the new trendy, affluent thing to do.
Pep Love: Yeah. Gentrification is happening in the cities. People from all kinds of places are taking over certain segments of the city that maybe used to be traditionally different. All kinds of makeovers are happening across all cities. They’re throwing all these condos up. It’s the same metaphor; it’s the same thing that happened with Hip Hop. It’s not even about race. Somehow it’s gotten to the point where you have to have an appeal for a world that has nothing to do with where Hip Hop came from. You have to be in with pop culture. Your song has to be getting played on mainstream radio, almost. The mind state has been gentrified. The inner city youth are only interested in something that’s already super popular. You’ve got to be blinged out to the fullest - figuratively and literally.
DX: When did you first notice the shift. Hiero’s been active since 1991.
Pep Love: We noticed it at our shows. It was cool. At first it was kind of like, we go to certain areas and it’s a suburban type atmosphere. Pretty much all White kids. It kind of had a connection to the kind of Hip Hop we were doing. We were doing underground Hip Hop. By the time we were doing Hiero tours at least, Hip Hop had already moved more towards the bling, street-type stuff. We weren’t doing the kind of shows where it would be the inner city youth - Blacks, Latino youth - showing up. It wasn’t like that. That was starting to taper off. When I realized that the biggest Hip Hop concerts - I’m talking about street-type Rap, hood Rap - is only going on out in the suburbs. They don’t do shows in Oakland or San Francisco. They’re doing Concord Pavilion, Mountain View. These are the only places where they’re having those kind of concerts. They’re on the bill with some other type stuff. That’s when I noticed it. I do this. I do music so I’m watching how the business is working. When I saw that, I’m like, “Wow.” Hip Hop that I grew up on - when I went to the Fresh Fest - I went right to the Oakland Coliseum. It’s not like that anymore and I don’t think it’ll ever be like that again because the violence and all of that stuff.
There were some real legitimate reasons why stuff changed. I remember there used to be a few fights every time. One time it got so bad that they had to shut the whole concert down. It could get kind of troublesome. For us; for Hiero, we attract more of an intelligent, more diverse crowd anyway. Whether it’s White kids or a mixture of kids. And we’re not that big either. We’re not that big to where it’s gonna be 17,000 kids showing up to a concert.
DX: If you pay attention to the news, America seems extremely divided along racial lines. But if you go to a Hiero show - or scores of other Hip Hop artists - there’s all kinds of diversity. Does America feel as racially divided in your opinion?
Pep Love: To me, yeah. Even at Hiero shows. I won’t say just Hiero shows, but a certain brand of Hip Hop there’s almost no Black people there at all. What is that all about? For some reason it’s like an either/or thing. I don’t even know if it’s racial, but I think there’s a certain sense that - and this is coming from the black side - that we don’t really fuck with it, even if we like the music. I don’t know. I’ve been to other shows and it actually is mixed. So, of course race is still an issue. People root for sports figures based on their identification with race. I think it is still an issue. With Hip Hop it might even be more of an issue because now there are a lot of white rappers. I think because there’s a huge white audience for Rap now, there’s almost a different market that’s opened. I don’t know if it’s a different market. It’s just the fact that now that there’s a lot of white kids that listen to Rap, a white rapper can come in and do his thing. It may even be some what getting to the point, in certain avenues of Hip Hop, a white rapper’s face might be more acceptable.
There’s a shift in the way it’s working out, but it’s still an issue. Back in the early 1990s, Hip Hop was such a Black thing, a hood thing that even the white kids that did Rap were pretty much only around people of color all the time, one way or another. But now it’s almost like you get a whole straight White crew of rappers. It’s not like it’s a hood thing anymore that people who are not necessarily from the inner city - whether they be white or whatever color - have to go and find. It’s already at where they are. Because they can have their own interpretation of it, I think there is a certain level of this is “Black Hip Hop” right here and this is “white Hip Hop.” That’s divisive right there.
DX: The West Coast Hip Hop scene is extremely exciting right now. There’s a lot of young artists who are garnering a lot of attention and getting all kinds of Youtube hits or whatever the new measure for how dope someone is these days. The Bay Area is absolutely a hub of all that activity. How do you feel about this new era of West Coast artists coming out the Bay?
Pep Love: I’m impressed with their ability to garner attention with such a wide audience. And they’re from my neighborhood. It’s huge. It’s a whole phenomenon with Lil B and Kreayshawn. All these different kids just kind of came on YouTube. Boom. It’s different. It’s a different style or approach to Rap music. I think this has something to do with trying to explain the struggles of the inner city life. That being an ongoing theme in Hip Hop not as much anymore, I think there’s a certain degree of like, “This is whatever. I’m out here having a good time.” This is me speaking from that perspective. There’s a certain degree of Hip Hop and doing music not being their first priority as far “This is Hip Hop.” It’s more like, “This is me, and Hip Hop is a way I can express me to the world.” It’s about fashion. It’s about style. This is stuff Hip Hop has always been about, too. But it’s about video, fashion, lifestyle-type stuff. I don’t think the music is the main priority and that makes it two different kinds of Hip Hop. There’s Hip Hop as more lifestyle and there’s Hip Hop that’s actually more about music. I would say I fit into the one that’s more about music because I come from that era. But there are a bunch of new kids that are about doing dope music more so than just being the coolest.
DX: The “brand” seems to be the new “nice.”
Pep Love: Exactly. It’s like what kind of ripple effect are you having in the pond of pop culture?
DX: Kreayshawn and V-Nasty caught a lot of flack last year for dropping n-bombs. That was a major discussion in 2011. Whatever side of the issue an individual falls, I think it does say something about the state of Hip Hop when white artists using the n-word is a debatable issue. What were your thoughts on that?
Pep Love: [Laughs] Exactly. Things that used to be the norm in Hip Hop are being challenged. She’s young. All of them, they’re young. They’re from Oakland, and in Oakland, everyone says that word in a way. It’s not like anybody can say it and be all good. At times, everybody does say it in a light way, “Yo, that’s my nigga right there.” But for her to be saying that like she’s black or something and it’s all good, just a white kid to be like, “Nigga, nigga, nigga,” publicly...Coming from her, to me it’s like a random person acting a fool on YouTube. It doesn’t really have much meaning.
I think certain people came out and defended her and then it became more of an issue. Then people’s opinion started to come out. It’s funny that that’s the reason why certain people started to talk about it because it actually got to the point where you got white rappers straight up saying “nigga.” It’s funny that that was the reason why. The discussion about the n-word needed to be talked about. Is it Hip Hop or is it racial? That’s one of those issues where you talk about Hip Hop being from the inner city and it’s kind of like part of the inner city Black youth. Inner city Black expression is part of the essence of Hip Hop and as White kids get more and more into it and part of it - and I’m talking about White people not from the city that aren’t ever around Black people - it becomes a contradiction. It’s like, “I’m White. I like Hip Hop. I can’t say 'nigga'? Y’all always saying 'nigga' in your raps. I want to say 'nigga,' too.” Things bump into each other. The fact that Hip Hop has become more acceptable to white people; the fact that it comes from black people, there’s things like how we say “nigga.” They wanna be down with Hip Hop so how come they can’t be down with “nigga,” too? [Laughs]
DX: My favorite joint off the press copy of Rigamarole is “Cloudy Days.” It’s a great song.
Pep Love: Thank you. That’s one of my favorites as well. It’s actually produced by Nima Fadavi. I don’t know if I said his name earlier.
DX: I know you’re doing remix submissions for “Can’t Nobody Do It Like Us.” How has that gone so far and when can we expect to hear that remix?
Pep Love: I’m actually going to get a chance to hear some of these remix submissions today. I’ve been on tour so I haven’t had a chance to touchdown with the people that are actually collecting the remix submissions. It’s a whole new concept for me. Normally I wouldn’t really be that opened to letting random people touch my music. That’s more about who I respect and who I think is dope and dedicated like that. It’s a new era. Sometimes you work with people you’ve never seen before. Things are changing in that regard. I’m interested. I won’t necessarily say I’m excited. But I’m interested to hear what people did. Should be interesting.
DX: With everything you’ve seen and everything you’ve experienced as an artist and as an emcee, what still surprises you about Hip Hop?
Pep Love: One of the things that surprises me is that I still get surprised. There’s still things that I’m searching for. And I’m talking about music from back in the day that I haven’t been exposed to. And also as a person that considers himself to be a Hip Hopper, there’s still new and deeper ways that I feel that I can still be involved. How Hip Hop still hasn’t fulfilled its full potential. It’s brought all kinds of people together. I feel Hip Hop still has the potential to be something that helps improve the community - the human community and the black community. What surprises me about Hip Hop is that it’s still the most potent at its source, where it came from. All the millions that it’s made for people and all the places that it’s reached, it’s still most powerful at its source.